SEVEN COMMUNITY CHILDREN'S CHOIRS IN FLORIDA:
FUNCTION IN THE COMMUNITY,
AND CONDUCTORS' THEORIES AND PRACTICES
MARY JEANETTE MCGREGOR HOWLE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
A great many people have allowed me to spend time, money and labor on this
study. While I have tried to remember to express my appreciation on each occasion, there
is no doubt that I have often been remiss.
My advisor, Dr. Phyllis E. Dorman, has been very patient and supportive. Her
good advice, loan of books, and willingness to go beyond the call of duty have been of
tremendous help and have been a model of good teaching.
Other committee members have also readily loaned books, answered questions,
and provided advice, and for that I am grateful. To Dr. Russell Robinson, Dr. Charles
Hoffer, Dr. Arthur Jennings, Dr. Budd Udell and Dr. Linda Lamme I offer my sincere
Robena Cornwell and her staff in the music library have often been of great help.
Their willingness to stop their own projects and help a patron in distress is highly
My parents, Clara and Angus McGregor, are due gratitude and love. They were
unfailing in their encouragement of their children, advocating that we aspire to worthy
goals and doing whatever was necessary to help us realize those ambitions. The high
value they placed on a good and continuing education planted the seed for this work.
My husband, John, has given time, money, and interest, that I may go back to
school. His expertise with the computer has been invaluable, but, without doubt, it has
been his love and support that have made this work possible.
My daughters, Virginia and Katherine, have also been supportive and
uncomplaining. My desire to teach them to strive to realize their dreams has been one of
the prime motivators of this work.
Special thanks go to friends who kept prodding me to completion. Dr. Janice
Haworth, Paul and Peggy Mains, and Dianne and Lamar Walker have provided
unwavering friendship through many of the joys and sorrows of my life, and they are
To each of these people, I offer my warmest and most sincere appreciation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS............................................................................................... iii
LIST OF TABLES......................................................................................................... vii
ABSTRA CT................................................................................................................. viii
I INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................... I
Statement of Purpose........................................................................................... 1
Statement of the Problem ..................................................................................... 2
Questions Investigated......................................................................................... 8
Community Children's Choirs............................................................................. 13
H REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..................................................................... 15
Historical Overview ............................................................................................ 15
Vocal Philosophies............................................................................................. 26
Related Research................................................................................................ 39
1II M ETHODOLOGY............................................................................................. 48
Overview of the Study........................................................................................ 48
Treatment of the Data................................................................................... 57
IV RESULTS AND ANALYSES........................................................................... 59
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 59
Summary of Results............................................................................................ 61
V CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS................ 105
Statement of the Problem and Procedures.......................................................... 105
Recommendations and Implications................................................................... 115
Directions for Future Research........................................................................ 117
A QUESTIONNAIRE A AND RELATED MATERIALS................................... 119
B QUESTIONNAIRE B AND RELATED MATERIALS ................................... 125
C REPERTOIRE................................................................................................. 157
D COMMUNITY CHILDREN'S CHOIRS IN FLORIDA................................... 161
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........................................................................................ 175
LIST OF TABLES
1. Areas of Concern...................................................................................................... 60
2. Number of Singers.................................................................................................... 70
3. Gender of Singers...................................................................................................... 71
4. ChoirBudgets............................................................................................................ 95
5. Annual Tuition per Student....................................................................................... 97
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
SEVEN COMMUNITY CHILDREN'S CHOIRS IN FLORIDA:
FUNCTION IN THE COMMUNITY, ORGANIZATIONAL PATTERNS,
AND CONDUCTORS' THEORIES AND PRACTICES
Mary Jeanette McGregor Howle
Chairperson: Dr. Phyllis E. Dorman
Major Department: Music
The purpose of this study was to investigate aspects of community children's
choirs in Florida. Specific aspects of the investigation included (1) the name and location
of each choir; (2) the vocal training philosophy of the director; (3) the director's practices
that support the vocal training philosophy; (4) the use of vocalises; (5) the use of
auditions; (6) the use of training choirs; (7) the inclusion of a comprehensive music
education; (8) concert repertoire; (9) parental roles; (10) racial, gender and socio-
economic components of the community reflected in the choir; (11) funding; (12)
directoral motivation and commitment; and (13) where directors learn the skills needed to
direct a children's community choir.
The investigation included a direct mailing of a questionnaire to seven children's
community choir directors in Florida. Information was also obtained from interviews and
concert attendance. Results indicated that male directors attracted more male singers; girls
far outnumbered boys in community children's choirs; minority children were the least
represented; and, in order for recruiting to be successful, a well-educated community
population of at least 200,000 that supports the arts was necessary.
The most frequently cited reason for disbanding choirs was the inability of the
directors to balance the demands of the choir with those of other commitments. Directors
focused on singing, not on the concepts normally associated with music education, and
they selected music for its aesthetic appeal more than any other reason. Directors
reported very little undergraduate training in teaching children to sing, and they learned to
conduct a children's choir through independent study and practical experience.
Each director in the study auditioned all singers; and no director accepted children
who could not match pitch. No provision was made for poor singers. Individual tuition
ranged between $170 and $500 per year; travel, uniforms and registration fees were paid
in addition to tuition. Scholarships were often provided for low-income children.
The American community children's choir is a relatively new phenomenon in the
long history of choral music. The community children's choir, comprising both boys and
girls, is unique in that it draws its membership from a broader constituency, rather than
from a single social, religious, or cultural organization. This type of organization is a
relatively recent addition to the previous choral organizations for children. Separate choirs
for boys and for girls have been in existence for centuries (Shaffer, 1992), and such choirs
have participated in both sacred and secular music in worship services and concerts.
These choirs have most commonly been church or school-based, rather then community-
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this study was to investigate facets of community children's choirs
in the state of Florida. It gathered information on (1) the preparation and training of choir
directors, particularly in the areas of child voice training; (2) funding; (3) parental roles;
(4) concert repertoire; (5) the development of singing skills; (6) corporate choir
organization; (7) the general music education of the singers; (8) scheduling rehearsals and
concerts; and (9) determining whether or not these choirs reflect the racial, socio-
economic and cultural diversities of the communities they represent.
Statement of the Problem
The Name and Location of Each Choir
Several researchers have studied the boy choir (Ackerly, 1983; Criswell, 1987;
Farrell, 1976; Rhoden, 1971; Sewell, 1990), Bolton investigated denominational
children's choirs in southern California (1982), and Farrior (1993) briefly looked at the
development of both community and church children's choirs in her study of Helen Kemp.
A review of the literature showed that Bourne (1990) included a Georgia community-
based children's choir in her study of director's instructional techniques, but there is no
study limited exclusively to community children's choirs in Florida that examines the
This study did not cover the business and legal aspects of conducting children's
choirs, although they are highly important areas. They have been addressed by other
authors, particularly Welles (1995a and b).
The Vocal Training Philosophy of the Director
As directors teach their choirs, they follow various vocal philosophies. One school
of thought results in the distinctive sound of English boy choirs, while American boy
choirs are equally identifiable by a different, but no less distinctive, sound. Phillips (1993)
stated that teachers receive little training in the handling of the child voice, giving rise to
the question of where directors receive education in vocal methods for children, and
which philosophy, if any, of vocal training they follow.
To fill the gaps in their knowledge about children's voices, directors attend
workshops, read professional literature, and converse with colleagues. Knowing where
directors obtain their training is essential for the music education profession so that quality
materials can be provided in those venues.
How the Director's Practices Support the Vocal Training Philosophy
Choir directors need a mental concept of the ideal sound of children's voices, both
alone and in ensemble (Bartle, 1988, p. 7; Shrock, 1990; Swears, 1985, p. 51). Without an
idea of the desired sound and repertoire, achieving a quality product would be difficult, at
best. Once directors form their philosophies of vocal training for children's choirs, the
question remains as to whether or not they have designed activities that support those
How Vocalises Are Used in the Choirs
Vocalises can form a part of the philosophy of vocal training used by the director.
They can be used merely to warm up the vocal mechanism or to perfect the literature
while the body is being readied for singing. Alternatively, vocalises may not be used at all.
The use and purpose of vocalises form part of the total approach to children's choir
singing. This study investigated them from that perspective.
The Use of Auditions
Auditions may be used either to exclude those with vocal problems or to correctly
place those who need additional singing help, and are another facet of the director's
approach to the choir. Both points of view have fervent proponents (Campbell & Scott-
Kassner, 1995, p. 154; Phillips, 1993; Haworth, 1992).
Farrell's study (1976, p. 40) emphasized the importance of auditions. He quoted a
respondent in his study who said that the philosophy of the choir can be discovered in the
audition. Bartle (1988, p. 110) stated that a judicious use of auditions can help to avoid
future problems, including those involving health, motivation and social skills.
How Training Choirs Are Used
If auditions are a part of the admittance process, directors must decide what to do
with children who cannot pass the audition because of singing problems. Some children's
choir organizations consist of more than one choir. A concert, or senior, choir is used for
most public appearances, while a training, or junior, choir gives problem singers time to
develop their vocal skills (Shrock, 1990). Some directors may have found that training
choirs are invaluable, while others may have found that the time and expense involved in a
junior choir are not worthwhile.
Comprehensive Music Education In the Choral Program
The national standards for music education, published under the title The School
Music Program: A New Vision (Music Educators National Conference (MENC), 1994),
stated that young children 'learn by doing,' and the first Content Standard for Grades K-4,
Grades 5-8, and Grades 9-12 was "singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of
music." Professional music educators believe that children can learn to sing expressively,
on pitch and in rhythm, many different kinds of songs. Equally desirable is the ability to
follow a director and to sing music with more than one vocal part (MENC), 1994, p. 13,
While children who participate in a choir receive training in singing, directors may
also attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the music under consideration. To teach
the sounds alone, neglecting the relevant music concepts of rhythm, melody, harmony,
form, expression, and style, squanders valuable teaching opportunities. Music education
has been accused of just such waste in the past (Mercer, 1972), but it may be that
directors are now availing themselves of teaching opportunities that help children attain
the goals in the arts that every "student should know and be able to do" (MENC, 1994, p.
Bartle (1988, p. 194) urged directors to "be fastidious" when selecting music. She
and Swears (1985, p. 161) both advised directors to select music that is worth learning. It
would be useful to both new and experienced directors to know which compositions
choirs involved in this study have used. It may also be of interest to learn whether
directors use readily available lists, such as those published by the American Choral
Directors Association or the Music Educators National Conference.
The Role of Parents
Parents occupy an important place in the choral organization. The director may
gratefully receive their efforts in collecting money, sweeping the floor, arranging parties or
distributing music, or, fearing the "stage door mother" syndrome, purposely keep them at
a distance. The management of parents can be of utmost importance to the choir, since
they are responsible for the child's participation. The parental role is an important part of
the total choir picture.
Reflection of the Community
The ideal of the 'community choir' is an organization that reflects the racial,
religious, cultural and socio-economic groups of the community as much as possible.
Goetze (1988) made the case for the choral experience to be "available to more than a
chosen few," and special arrangements may be necessary to assure that transportation,
location, and finances do not preclude any child from membership. If music educators
truly believe that music is for everyone, an issue germane to this study is the recruitment
and retention of children from every area of the community.
While operating a choir without money is possible, it would be extremely difficult
to do so. Fledgling choirs can borrow music, schedule rehearsals in an obliging church or
community center and request that children wear the ubiquitous white shirt and dark
slacks uniform, but a growing and flourishing organization eventually needs to spend
money. How and where the director obtains these funds is of vital importance to the
continued existence of the choir.
Children have access to many different activities. Participation in sports, the arts,
church and school organizations and family activities takes time that may otherwise be
available for singing. Since the child has little input into rehearsal and concert scheduling,
but suffers the consequences of any conflicts that arise, membership in the choir frequently
depends on how well this issue is handled by the adults. This may be especially important
with children from specific ethnic populations whose religious festivals or cultural
celebrations may not coincide with mainstream American calendars. Thus, an issue which
is pertinent to this study is how directors arrange their rehearsal and concert calendars and
motivate their singers to commit the necessary time and energy.
Phillips (1985b) stated that beginning teachers are often "ill-equipped to handle the
child voice" because they are not adequately prepared to "face the problems encountered
in teaching children to sing." Undergraduate instrumental majors are particularly lacking in
voice training, he said, but they often take jobs that require teaching voice.
If formal education does not prepare children's directors to teach children to sing,
then it becomes necessary to know where directors are receiving their training so that
choral and music education groups provide adequate resources. It may be that
professional organizations, workshops, journals and informal collegial discussions are the
training ground for educators who are concerned about their skills in teaching children to
This investigation studied seven community children's choirs as they existed in the
state of Florida in 1998. A brief history and the size of the membership were obtained
from each choir. Information was acquired about the preparation and training of choir
directors, particularly in the area of child voice training; the organizational structure of the
choirs; and their repertoire and funding. Data were acquired to attempt to determine
whether or not these choirs reflected the racial, socio-economic status and cultural
diversities of the communities they represented.
The first question pertained to the history and purpose of each choir. During the
investigation, choirs were located the choirs and a brief history of the choir, consisting of
age and reason for founding, was obtained.
It was important to examine the voice training philosophy of the conductor
because this has a profound impact on the vocal sound of the choir. The sound is a direct
result of how that conductor views the child voice. Investigation of that philosophy
provided insight into how the director regards the child's voice, its use and training. What
the director thinks about children's singing plays a key role in determining the sound of the
choir, but equally important is the technique used to implement that philosophy.
Examination of custom accompanied investigation into ideology. The practices of
directors may include vocalises and auditions, and these areas were important to this
In attempting to teach children to sing well, a director may use training choirs.
These choirs are for children not yet mature enough to perform. They are an instructional
opportunity for choristers, giving the child time to prepare for the more exacting needs of
a concert choir. Training choirs were examined as part of the director's approach to
training a child's singing voice.
The music being taught is another means of teaching vocal skills. It can also be
used to teach music concepts. While this practice is advocated in the professional
literature (Mercer, 1972), the question of whether or not it is actually used was deemed
worthy of investigation.
The selection of concert repertoire is an indication of the director's philosophy in
the areas of music education and vocal training. Preference for one composition over
another may be the result of a desire to teach a particular music concept or to polish vocal
skills. Information of this nature is helpful to composers, arrangers and publishers who are
seeking to meet the needs of the children's choir market.
While the music the choir sings is vitally important, so are parental attitudes, for
parental attitude can determine whether or not a child joins a choir, the degree of
enthusiasm the child exhibits, and the length of membership. The way in which the choir
leadership deals with parents may have a part in forming this attitude. This investigation
attempted to ascertain directors' perspectives on parents and how these interested adults
may best serve the choir.
If a choir is truly a community choir, it will include representatives from all
segments of the community, including the differing races, religions, and cultural and socio-
economic groups. This study sought to discover whether or not these choirs are culturally
representative of the areas in which they are based.
Without money, a choir's possibilities are severely limited. It is not possible to
purchase music, tour, or pay salaries. The tuition paid by singers is an important monetary
resource for the choir and this study investigated the amount of tuition and how the money
With the proliferation of activities and organizations for children, it may be difficult
for a director to design a choral program that will capture and hold the interest of young
singers. Concert and rehearsal schedules which do not conflict with the many other
practices, games and meetings which singers want to attend may be crucial to the
continued existence of the choir. This study sought information on how directors find
adequate singing time for their children.
1. This study was limited to community children's choirs in the state of Florida,
which has active choir programs.
2. Children's choirs in this study were those that included both boys and girls
whose voices were not yet changed. All children were capable of singing all of the vocal
3. The choirs in this study were community based. While they may have met in
school, church, or community facilities, they drew singers from, and sang concerts in, the
community at large.
4. This study focused on the directors and their perceptions of choirs. In addition,
the investigation examined the membership of the choirs. The opinions and attitudes of
parents and choristers were not included.
1. It was assumed that the directors of all choirs had an undergraduate degree in
2. It was assumed that the directors understood a basic choral vocabulary. Words
such as "vocalise," "audition," and "pitch-matching" were not defined on correspondence
with the directors.
Children's choir is a choral organization in which the participants have treble voices
with a range ofB' below middle C to 5th line F in treble clef (Nye et al., 1992, p. 237).
These children are typically aged eight through sixteen (Tagg, 1993), approximately
grades 3 -11.
Chest Voice is a heavy, usually loud, singing voice. It results in an inability to sing
notes in the top two lines and spaces of the treble clef staff (Bridges, 1993; Kemp, 1989,
p. 10; Phillips, 1992a, p. 43-44; Swears, 1985, p. 63).
Community choirs are not officially affiliated with a single church, school or other
organization. Choristers are drawn from the community and are not restricted to a single
organization (Bartle, 1988, p. 115).
Comprehensive music education is also known as 'comprehensive musicianship.'
It blends elements of performance, theory, history and literature and composition into
each lesson (Campbell and Scott-Kassner, 1995, p. 57).
Concepts include rhythm, timbre, melody, harmony, form, style, tempo, dynamics,
articulation. These elements of music are the larger content areas from which small
portions are selected for one lesson plan or unit of study (Nye et al., 1992, p. 58).
Conductor is also known as director. One who leads the musical ensemble.
Fundamentals of music include the basics of music: pitch, pitch names, scales,
intervals, key signatures, duration (Ottman, 1961, p. 1-14).
Head Tones/Head Voice refers to a light, concentrated singing tone in which the
vocal bands contract for the higher pitches. The spaces in the pharynx and sinus cavity are
used for a resonating chamber (Bridges, 1993; Crocker, 1978, p. 17; Kemp, 1989, p. 10).
This is different from a 'falsetto' voice (Phillips, 1992a, p. 50; Vennard, 1967, p. 250; 0.
Wingate, personal communication, April 5, 1997).
Problem singer is one who lacks some or all vocal skills. (See Vocal Skills below.)
Tessitur is the range in which most of the notes, not including occasional high or
low notes, of a particular part are located.
Training hoi is also known by other names such as junior choir or apprentice
choir. The primary function of such a group is to allow singers the opportunity to mature
vocally before becoming a member of the more advanced choir in the organization.
Vocalise is a melody sung on a vowel, often without text. Used to 'warm-up' the
vocal mechanism and prepare the body and mind for singing. These vocal exercises can be
used to prevent or correct poor vocal techniques (Erman, 1981, p. 53).
Vocal skills include the ability to sing
*with appropriate timbre, diction, posture and expression
*with accurate pitch and rhythm
*with good breath control
*with technical accuracy (MENC, 1994, p. 13, 17)
Community Children's Choirs
According to the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) (National
Directory of Children's Choirs, 1995), many communities support children's choirs today.
These choirs may provide the systematic vocal training and exposure to choral literature
that the school music teacher may not have the time, expertise or funding to provide. One
community choir director cautions, however, that "the community children's choir, no
matter how good, IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR CHORAL SINGING IN THE
PUBLIC ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! !" (Paulin, 1989).
Community children's choirs take music into a broader arena than the local church
or elementary school. The entire city provides both membership and audience. Children
have the opportunities to meet and perform with singers from other areas of the city, and
to learn music which may not be available in other programs.
A choral organization that includes both boys and girls is a relatively new idea.
Boy choirs have been in existence since at least the fifth century (Sample, 1966, p. 5) and
King Solomon used girl choirs in both temple and court (Drinker, 1948, p. 133), but the
combination of both boys and girls in a choral organization supported by the citizens of a
city, rather than the more narrow sponsorship of a particular organization is comparatively
recent. A study of this innovation, which began in the 1970s (Farrior, 1993, p. 122), will
add to the knowledge of this aspect of children's choral music.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
This chapter contains an overview of the research on children's choirs in the United
States. Since there is no research related to children's community choirs, the information
in this section was obtained from research done on denominational choirs, boy choirs and
girl choirs. The review focuses on studies that discuss voice training, vocalises, auditions,
and a comprehensive music education in relationship to children's choirs. This chapter also
presents a brief history of boy choirs, girl choirs and children's choirs.
Evidence that boys have been singing in established choirs for centuries is
abundant. Boethius (480-524 A.D.) cited Plato's statements regarding training boys in
music, including his advice on the kinds of music that should be used (Strunk, 1965, p.
81). Choirs of men and boys sang the chant as early as the reign of Pope Sylvester (A.D.
314-336) (Rhoden, 1971, p. 417), and boy choirs were "common at Jerusalem by the
beginning of the fifth century" (Sample, 1966, p. 5).
In America, the Episcopal church established boy choirs and the schools for
training them in the 18th century. Trinity Church in New York and St. Michael's Church
in Charleston, S.C., trained boys to sing the metrical psalms and the chants of Morning
Prayer (Ellinwood, 1953, p. 42; Farrior, 1993, p. 114; Shaffer, 1992, p. 4). Parochial
schools for boy choirs sprang up, and the movement continued to expand until the early
part of the 20th century. By "the late 1900s" there were more than 20 boy choirs in the
United States, but this number began to decline by the 1930s (Farrior, 1993, p. 115).
The first two decades of the 20th century saw the apparent beginnings of boy
choirs that were not church sponsored. The first community boy choir seems to have been
the Roney Boys of Chicago about 1900 (Rhoden, 1971, p. 417); other boy choirs existed
in such diverse locations as Miami, Albuquerque, and Chicago (Rhoden, 1971, p. 105-
106). There is some evidence that boy choirs may evolve into children's choirs, since one
study (Criswell, 1987) documented a difference of opinion in the Episcopalian church
between those who favored keeping the choirs exclusively male and those who advocated
the admittance of girls (cited in Shaffer, 1992, p. 5).
While some experts consider boy choirs to be the musical ancestor of our present-
day children's choirs (Rao, 1989), the evidence of girl choirs can not be ignored. Girls
participated in choirs in the ancient Hebrew worship service. I Chronicles 25:5-6 states
that Heman had 14 sons and three daughters and "they all served under their father for the
singing in the house of the Lord" (Drinker, 1948, p. 133; cited in McRae, 1991, p. 24).
W. F. Cook, Jr. (personal communication, January 30, 1997) also refers to Psalm 68:25
which states that maidens played tambourines in worship. He takes the reference to
"maidens" to mean unmarried girls, with the reminder that girls married at a much earlier
age than today. King Solomon used girl choirs in his second temple and in his court
orchestra (Drinker, 1948, p. 133).
The ancient Greeks employed girl choristers in the worship of goddesses. They
assisted the priestesses, and were an important part of the "religious and musical life of
Greece until long after the beginning of the Christian Era" (Drinker, 1948, p. 91-92).
Church leaders in the second century sponsored girls in church choirs. One of the most
famous girl choirs was in the parish of Bishop Paul of Samosata. Other girl choirs existed
in Jerusalem in A. D. 392, being used to sing psalms and antiphons (Drinker, 1948, p.
The most famous choral opportunities for girls were possibly those at the four
Venetian ospedali in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were eventually four hospitals, or
orphanages, that grew from trade schools into excellent music schools performing music
by Pergolesi, Vivaldi, and Hasse (Mariani, 1997; Meredith, 1997). Notable among these
was the Ospedali della Pieta, which Dr. Charles Burney visited in 1771. He attended a
performance and described the singing as "really excellent." In his writings on these
Italian conservatories, he made reference to girl choirs that sang the psalms in English
churches (cited in Neuls-Bates, 1982, p.67-68).
Boy and girl choirs were not a subject for debate in the early days of America, but
the poor state of church congregational singing was a topic of much concern. One of the
first music textbooks, A very plain and easy Introduction to the Art of Singing Psalm
Tunes, written by the Reverend John Tufts, was issued in the early 18th century (Birge,
1929, p. 7; Hitchcock, 1969, p. 5). This book and other books which followed attempted
to teach singers how to correctly sing the hymns used for worship. These early religious
leaders felt that a more knowledgeable congregation would sing the music as printed,
rather than adding impromptu "quavers" (Birge, 1929, p. 5), or "Turns and Flourishes"
(Bolton, 1982, p. 2; Hitchcock, 1988, p. 5; Van Camp, 1978).
The idea of children's choirs originated with the singing school, another attempt to
improve singing in the church. Singing schools began to be established in the early 18th
century (Birge, 1929, p. 8; Hubbard, 1908, p. 175). The Rev. Thomas Walter, an ardent
advocate of singing schools, wondered, in his 1721 essay, why people would assume that
singing skills were any more a matter of inspiration than reading skills (Hubbard, 1908, p.
175). The popularity of singing schools lasted for some sixty years and became a favorite
recreational and educational pursuit. Their importance to children's choral singing lies in
the fact that these schools were not for adults only, but included whole families. Children
received instruction in both music notation and singing skills (Farrior, 1993, p. 119;
Hitchcock, 1988, p. 5).
A desire to improve congregational singing led to several developments in
American music education, chief among them being music textbooks and singing schools
which taught music reading, notation, and singing skills (Birge, 1929, p. 7-11). Both
books and schools ultimately resulted in elementary school singing instruction as we know
it (Atterbury, 1991). While contemporary music education also teaches music reading and
notation, the latest national standards for music education strongly encourage concept
development (MENC, 1994). Knowledge about rhythm, melody, expressiveness,
harmony, form and style is included in a quality program of music instruction.
The Moravians, a religious movement that founded settlements in Pennsylvania
and North Carolina in the late 18th century, had a strong commitment to music education
and choral music. Their emphasis on music education and vocal instruction was not so
much a way of improving congregational singing as it was a means of maintaining
religious practices, cultivating aesthetic sensitivity, and preserving traditions. Moravian
children sang chorales and hymns for approximately forty-five minutes nearly every school
day, and, as they advanced into upper grades, added preclassical and classical sacred
choral literature to their repertoire (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 46; Hall, 1981).
Lowell Mason, an early 19th century music educator, was also concerned over the
sad state of congregational singing. As one means of improving hymn singing, he preached
that all children could learn to sing, just as they could learn to read (Chase, 1955, p. 158;
Heller and Pemberton, 1996). This was contrary to popular opinion, which held that only a
select few who were naturally gifted could learn to sightread (Damrosch, 1908, p. 21).
Mason's music method book, Manual of the Boston Academy of Music for Instruction in
the Elements of Vocal Music on the System of Pestalozzi, published in 1834, was written
for the purposes of music literacy and vocal training (Phillips, 1992a, p. 6). By teaching
children to sing well, he could improve singing in both the present and the future.
Under Mason's leadership, the children of Hawes Grammar School, a public school
of South Boston, on August 14, 1838, presented a choral concert in the sanctuary of
South Baptist Church (Pemberton, 1988). This concert was a major factor in establishing
music as a subject in public school curricula and helped to prove his assertion that
everyone could sing.
Vocal training for children, which had begun during the singing schools (Phillips,
1992a, p. 5-6), continued in the public schools. A goal for Mason and his colleagues as
they taught in the schools, as it had been for Tufts early in the 18th century, was to
improve the singing in the churches (Farrior, 1993).
Like his brother, Lowell, Timothy Mason promoted the idea that all children could
learn to sing. While Lowell achieved fame for his activities in Boston, Timothy's similar
work in Cincinnati, Ohio, is not as well-known. Like Lowell, he was active in the
establishment of music education in the schools and in teaching singing skills. Timothy led
a large children's choir in two concerts during October, 1838, at a meeting of the College
of Professional Teachers at the Sixth Street Methodist Church, Cincinnati. The children
came from several different schools in the city. In June, a children's choir was part of the
Annual Procession and Exhibition of the Common Schools of Cincinnati (Mark and Gary,
1992, p. 152).
An outstanding children's chorus, directed by William L. Tomlins, presented a
concert at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Tomlins had begun to work with children's
groups for the Chicago board of education about 1890, and his choirs became the standard
for children's choral singing. He focused on producing a beautiful tone, borrowing
methods from both the rote and reading approaches (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 186).
At the turn of the century, Elizabeth Van Fleet Vosseller led children's choirs at the
First Presbyterian Church of Flemington, New Jersey (Ball, 1981, p. 10). Her work with
children's sacred music led others to become interested in children's choirs. Vosseller's
choirs were church-based, another attempt to improve singing in the church (Ball, 1981, p.
Ruth Krehbiel Jacobs was a direct philosophical descendant of Elizabeth Van Fleet
Vosseller. Like Vosseller, Jacobs believed that the material available for boy choirs was of
limited use in children's choirs, and that, by teaching the child, she influenced the adult
(Ball, 1984). Because of her attempts to reach as many children as possible, and because
so many children's choir directors wanted her advice, she organized the Choristers Guild in
1949 (Ball, 1984). While the Guild existed primarily for church choirs, its advice and
suggestions worked well for community choirs as well.
As schools began to give music a place in the curriculum, singing schools declined
because the public no longer felt a need for them (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 90). Children
learned to sing in school, and thus did not need extra-curricular vocal instruction.
About the middle of the 19th century, a 'scientific' approach to education began to
be evident and it became desirable to evaluate the subject matter (Mark and Gary, 1992, p.
166). Music teachers developed lesson plans that dealt with knowledge about music that
could be regularly tested (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 167). It was about this time that
music series were written to help children learn to read music. These books dealt with "the
facts of music rather than the music itself' (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 176). Children
learned about rests, clefs, sightreading, scales, meter and music dictation.
This trend continued into the 20th century. "Science" gave way to "progressive" as
a euphemism for "modern," but the emphasis on the testable facts of music remained.
Music history, analysis, creativity, and rhythmic activities were incorporated into the music
lessons (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 187).
By 1923, Songs of Childhood, edited by Will Earhart, T. P. Giddings and Ralph
Baldwin, showed a turn toward a more aesthetic approach in its emphasis of music
appreciation and melody writing (Mark and Gary, 1992, p. 188). The Music Hour,
originally published in 1929, continued the trend. The authors stated that one of the
purposes of the book was to show that "music shall make the child happier and more
sensitive to beauty and, as a socializing force, shall enable him to adjust himself more
sympathetically to his environment" (McConathy, Miessner, Birge and Bray, 1929, p. iii).
In the 1930s, the "song approach" became popular in American music education as
teachers tried to foster aesthetic experiences in their students. By singing beautiful songs,
it was felt, children would learn to sing and become attuned to the beauty of music. "It is
the duty, therefore, of every supervisor and teacher to devote intelligently directed effort
toward securing from the class a beautiful singing tone (McConathy et al., 1929, p. 1)
The vocal training, with its breathing exercises, which had been a part of music
classes, was largely abandoned (Farrior, 1993, p. 13 ; Phillips, 1992a, p. 10). Phillips
(1992a, p. 58) argued that this neglect of vocal training resulted in the general lowering of
the child singing range. "Pitch ranges of songs in the early basal series often required that
children sing to ft of the treble staff. Today, pitch ranges generally have been lowered..."
(Phillips, 1992a, p. 16). The pitch range of early music series may have been pitched high
to encourage head voice singing, not because children naturally sang in an upper range
(Nye, Nye, Aubin and Kyme, 1962, p. 5).
The legacy of the aesthetic approach is to be found in the scarcity of children's
singing methodology in current elementary methods textbooks (Phillips, 1985a, 1985b)
and in current elementary school music textbooks (Kavanaugh, 1982). The emphasis on
teaching music concepts through songs intellectualizedd music and minimized the need for
(singing) skills development" (Phillips, 1993). We find little in elementary music textbooks
today regarding the training of children's voices (Phillips, 1983, p. 4). As Phillips said:
Current elementary methods texts emphasize the song approach almost
exclusively. In most of these sources, it is rare to find any directives to the
actual training of the child voice, outside of simple pitch-matching
exercises. The song approach literature almost totally neglects such
parameters as tone quality, registers, dynamic level, duration, and range.
What are emphasized are the appropriate means by which to teach a song
by rote and large amounts of song literature. The mastery of singing as a
skill does not appear nearly as important as the use of singing to develop
awareness of basic musical concepts. (1985b)
In the 1960s, MENC became concerned that children could make music, but could
not understand the concepts that underlie all music. To counteract this, an emphasis on
analysis and listening surfaced in music textbooks as children learned to understand the
music they were making. Children sang in order to learn the concepts which could be
taught from the songs, not for the beauty of the music or for the chance to develop their
voices (Phillips, 1993).
Ruth K. Jacobs and the Mason brothers shared a belief that all children could learn
to sing (Ball, 1981, p.10, 1984; Coffman, 1987), a philosophy advocated by Lyon (1993),
Phillips (1993), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Committee
on Children's Choirs (Rao, 1989), Goetze (1988), Gould (No. 17), and Swears (1985, p.
Phillips (1993) and Fortunato (1981) believed that singing is a skill that can be
taught. Fortunate said:
if a child does not walk on his first birthday, we don't immediately assume
that he is not "inclined to walking" and give him up as an ambulatory
failure... we realize our responsibility to provide increased exposure
(practice) and encouragement (motivation) and assistance (teaching).
(1981, p. 143)
The church choir movement blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s, nourished by
Helen Kemp, Choristers Guild (Farrior, 1993, p. 118), and choir directors who attempted
to teach children the joy of singing. Kemp's work, begun in the 1950s, became the model
for church musicians who worked with children's choirs (Farrior, 1993, p. 127).
While church choirs were growing during the early 1960s, the incidence of singing
in school began to decline (Rao, 1993a); this trend continues today (Lyon, 1993). Diaz
(1980) found that a fifty year span of music series published in the United States showed,
among other things, less emphasis on part singing. Growman (cited in Runfola and
Rutkowski, 1992, p. 696), in her study of an 80 year span of basic music series, agreed.
Phillips (1993) attributed this decline partially to the lack of singing instruction in music
texts, but other factors may also contribute to the minimal singing opportunities. School
music programs have broadened to include a wide range of activities (Harris, 1985/1986),
all of which take time away from singing. While the first Content Standard of the National
Standards for music education calls for "singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire
of music" for all grade levels, subsequent standards urge students to perform on
instruments; improvise melodies, variations, and accompaniments; compose and arrange
music; read and notate music; and listen, analyze and describe music (MENC, 1994).
Singing and music reading are no longer emphasized, thus the need, once again, for
community choirs where children can learn to sing.
Some schools excluded arts programs, including music, from their curriculum as a
result of the 1970s "back-to-basics" movement, or as a result of funding cuts. Lack of
budget support resulted in less time for music in the school and music teachers began to
encounter difficulties in scheduling children's choirs during the school day (Rao, 1989).
Children's community choirs began to develop in the 1970s (Farrior, 1993, p. 122).
Declines in school budget and time allocations (Jensen, 1995) have led to increasing
interest and growth in community-based children's choirs. Children's choirs are not
associated with any particular school, do not depend on the whim of a principal or school
board's budget, and fill the need for singing instruction. The greatest growth and
development of community-based children's choirs has been more noticeable since the
1970s (Farrior, 1993). These choirs show a break with traditional goals of singing
instruction since they are not organized to improve singing in the church or to lead in the
By 1983, the new concept of children's choirs was born (Rao, 1993a). These
choirs may have the benefits of being "a musical outlet for talented children, an important
addition to the musical and cultural life of our community, and, perhaps, a viable
replacement for the nearly non-existent choral singing programs in the public schools"
With the growth of community choirs, a division of objectives has evolved, with
the schools educating for the consumption of the arts and the community-based programs
encouraging arts participation (Rao, 1989). Sinor (1997) worried that private performing
groups might "appear to relieve the public schools of responsibility for and cost of
providing appropriate music education." She speculated that a new elite based on
motivation and ambition, not, as had previously been the case, on financial means, might
come into being.
Since 1980, there has been a "children's choir explosion" as many new school and
community choirs have been organized (Campbell & Scott-Kassner, 1995, p. 153; Farrior,
1993, p. 124). Articles, books, clinics and workshops give advice to directors and
organizers who attempt to either fill in the void created by deleting school music programs
or to supplement the public school programs. Samuel Adler suggested that:
the expanding children's chorus movement is, to this composer at least, a
crucial development in an often discouraging musical scene and music
educational morass. I feel children can do anything as well as, if not better
than, adults, and the lasting musical effect is truly lifelong. (Adler, 1993)
Mursell and Glenn (1931, p. 278-279) made the point that "There are few fields of
work in music where one finds a greater profusion of impossible ideas, or wilder clouds of
mythology. The judgements of experts on points connected with vocal performance are
most extraordinarily varied and unreliable." But in spite of the many different points of
view, there were some areas of agreement. Among these were the concepts that good
techniques for children were also good ideas for adults, and that vocal training for boys
was no different than it was for girls. Age and gender did not make a difference in the
selection of method (Clippinger, 1929, p. 5; Crocker, 1978, p. 5; Ross, 1959, p. 181F;
Wilcox, 1935, p. 52, 57).
Authors also agreed that, while the technique may be unchanged, the amount of
work and the extent of knowledge that a child is capable of absorbing are not as great as
an adult's (Fields, 1947, p. 23; Phillips, 1985b; Ross, 1959, p. 181F; Weis, 1936, p. 3;
Wilcox, 1935, p. 52). In 1919, Giddings wrote:
the voice training necessary in the public schools is very simple and easy if
done in the right way. There is little training to be done except to see that
each child sings in an easy compass and does not strain his voice. (p. 181)
Field-Hyde (1947, p. 131) stated that "Something can be done with quite young
children, but it will hardly take the form of systematic study. Rather it will be in the
direction of restraining too exuberant energy." He went on to say that "More definite
training, ifjudiciously carried out, may begin at the age of eight or nine" (p. 132).
Ingram (1959, p. 82) generally agreed with this age range, recommending the age
of nine years for beginning voice training, although Gehrkens (1934, p. 89) believed that
"kindergarten and first grade or whenever the child first begins to sing" is the time to
"set up ideals of tonal beauty and habits of singing." Swears (1985, p. 8) gave directions
for developing the voices of six to eight year olds, including breath support and tone
production. Campbell and Scott-Kassner (1995, p. 127) agreed that "vocal technique can
be taught from the earliest songs by the knowledgeable teacher" and went on to state that
"children's voices can be greatly enhanced through training" (p. 131), although they
believed that private studio voice lessons are best left until young adulthood or later, when
the vocal mechanism has fully matured.
Ross (1959, p. 181G) placed the age for beginning vocal training a little later at
about ten years old and said that "children should be taught in classes." They should be
taught "normal quality, a singing diction, how to sing in the high and low voice, and how
to breathe for singing."
Ross did not suggest that children's voices are different from the adult voice in any
respect but immaturity. Since vocal methods apply equally to either gender or any age,
"how-to" articles and books written for adults, as well as those written for teachers of
young children, were used for this study.
There appear to be many schools of thought concerning the best way to teach a
student how to sing. Ross (1959, p. 26) listed 14 different "schools of teaching singing"
and stated that the list may not be complete. He described them as follows:
1. Bel Canto--"based on vocalization, registration, and vowel purity"
2. Emotional--"singing should be something you feel, rather than something you
do, and not a science"
3. Interpretative--"interpret everything you sing, even exercises"
4. Natural--"leave the singing instrument alone"
5. Psychological--"the mind sings, not the voice"
6. Resonance--"voice is resonance and nothing more"
7. Speech--"singing is speech which is prolonged and intensified"
8. Organic Co-ordination--"singing is the end product of the processes of
breathing, phonation, articulation and resonation"
9. Local Effort--"by controlling the bodily processes, one controls the voice"
10. Modem Scientific--"only science will teach you how to be a good singer....
vocal training should be considered as a special outgrowth of its parent sciences,
physiology and acoustics"
11. Phonetic placement--"vowel sounds should control the voice"
12. Psycho-Physiological Acoustical--"singing is a physical skill that requires a
definite procedure for technical development, and is psychological to such a high degree
that what the singer thinks and how he feels may unconsciously be reflected in the color of
13. Register--"bridging the registers is an important and delicate process"
14. Respiration--"he who knows how to breathe knows how to sing" (Ross, 1959,
Many authors, while advocating one of the above methods or another not listed,
allowed elements of other philosophies to creep in. Clippinger (1929, p. 5-6) wrote that
"Like everything else tone exists first as idea," which is aligned with the psychological
approach, but went on to state that '"Every beautiful tone is scientifically produced,"
which the scientific philosophy advocates.
A variety of philosophies are found in Mursell and Glenn (1931). They stated that
"the application of science to the problems of vocal work. . is particularly valuable" (p.
278), that "the only essential difference between the use of the voice in speech and in
song is the introduction of definite pitch steps" (p. 279), and that interpretation is a vital
necessity in singing. "Greatness in a singer does not turn on the ability to do tricks with
the voice, but on the ability to express music with the voice "(p. 280). In the gendered
language of their day, they went on to stress that "we must give the child something to
express in his singing, and help him to express it. This is the foundation of vocal
education" (p. 282).
While Christy (1970, p. 3) primarily believed in the song approach, he also stated
that "singing is just as natural as speaking and, actually, is primarily elongation of the
vowels and extension of the pitch inflections commonly heard in the speaking voice,"
which is a tenet of the speech method.
Nordholm (1966, p. 17), Street (1927, p. 9), Bairstow and Greene (1946, p. 10),
Westerman (1947, p. 9) and Weis (1936) suggested that the beginnings of singing are in
speech. Weis said that "boys and girls learn to sustain the voice, thus producing the
singing tone. This leads to melodic production which is a more unusual form of expression
than the speech sounds of our language" (p. 5). Street (1927, p. 9) defined singing as
"The Artistic Intensification of Speech," and said that we accomplish it by changing the
power, pitch and duration of the syllables. Those who are studying singing are learning to
speak "higher, louder and longer" (Street, 1927, p. 11). Miller (1996) agreed that the
same functions of "vowel definition, consonant formation, and general language
perception" (p. 51) are needed in both speech and singing, but he went on to say that "the
requirements for singing far exceed the demands of speech" (p. 51), the major difference
being "temporal" (p. 52). Speech produces sounds much more rapidly than singing, and
the singer must pay close attention to "vowel definition" (p. 52).
"If children heard as much singing as talking" they would learn to sing "as easily
and naturally" as they learned to speak (Coleman, 1922, p. 100). Coleman went on to say
that a child's singing instruction can begin the day of birth by listening to family members
sing naturally and spontaneously. He believed that children learn to sing by imitation and
that a child who hears singing "habitually in his home, stands a fair chance of being able to
sing very early in his life" (Coleman, 1922, p. 100).
Wilcox (1935, p. 19) was a proponent of the organic co-ordination approach to
tone production, although the psychological approach is evident in his writing. "Voice
training, therefore, must usually concern itself in the beginning stages quite as much with
inhibiting the activity of interfering muscles as with co-ordinating and developing the
muscles which properly function in the human sound-producing mechanism." Before
singing, the singer must first think of the tone and allow the vocal mechanism to
"automatically come into normal coordination."
The psychological approach to singing attracted attention from Erman (1981, p.
50), who made the observation that the "careless negative comments" of teachers, parents
and acquaintances may contribute to the reluctance to sing, or to learn to sing. The
singer's mind is distracted and complete attention to singing is difficult. Concentration,
early training and an abundance of praise and encouragement can help to overcome these
Ingram (1959, p. 91) stated that there is a "twofold approach" to good
interpretation. She believed that it takes both mental and physical responses to present a
song correctly. "One the one hand...is the intellectual approach. We must understand the
text, the idea, the mood, and the spirit of the song... The second approach is the physical,
or rhythmic, response which children often feel instinctively."
A vocal method which dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries is "bel canto." It
reputedly produced voices of "great limpidity, extremely wide range, amazing flexibility
and beautiful quality" (Reid, 1950, p. 10) and sacrificed "every other consideration in the
interest of tonal beauty" (Reid, 1950, p. 19). This Italian method was based on instruction
in the rudiments of music notation, voice production and management, theory,
composition, correct pronunciation of vowels, interpretation and intonation (Reid, 1950,
Fields (1947, p. 328) surveyed 714 publications for opinions on the teaching of
singing. He used a wide variety of sources, including Good Housekeeping and Etude
magazines and "scientific papers and experimental reports" produced by "authors,
teachers, scientists and singers" (p. 266). While it is difficult to determine how many
vocal approaches he has documented, it is quickly apparent that there are many different
ideas about how to teach singing.
Even a cursory survey of literature on the subject reveals astonishing
inconsistencies and conflicts of pedagogical opinion. From a general
viewpoint, this diversity of opinion apparently arises from the fact that a
multiplicity of specific teaching procedures is being developed by individual
teachers without reference to the broader pedagogical principles underlying
them. (Fields, 1947, p. 3)
A method that is not widely advocated in current children's voice training
literature is what Phillips termed the '"formal approach" (1984, p. 11). In this method, the
voice teacher seeks to cure or correct specific vocal problems through the use of vocal
exercises. Christiansen (1932, p. 61) wrote that the development of "large lung capacity"
and breath control "is the principal work of the singer." Christiansen included a series of
exercises in his book that "are primarily for note-reading and tone-hitting" and "are
calculated to develop breath control and lung capacity" (p. 65).
Erman (1981, p. 53) agreed that exercises are valuable in "preventing or
eliminating faulty vocal techniques." She went on to caution that the drill patterns must be
varied and "creatively evolving" to sustain interest and motivation.
One method which currently finds wide acceptance, is the "song method."
Although Fields (1947, p. 66) devoted only a minimum amount of space to this approach,
and Ross (1959, p. 26) omitted it from his list of 14, other authors recommended it.
Christy (1970) discussed this approach by name, defined it, and gave reasons for its use:
The student starts singing songs immediately, endeavoring with the help
and guidance of the instructor to interpret each song as meaningfully as
possible under limitations of technic that then pertain... Experience has
demonstrated conclusively that the Song Approach, with emphasis
primarily on expression, is not only the most interesting to students but also
generates an enthusiasm and stimulus that result in an even more rapid gain
in technic. (Christy, 1970, p. viii)
Mursell advocated the use of the song approach:
Teach the whole song... Remember always that the song itself is the
thing. ... The time for analysis, for calling attention to this or that specific
detail or aspect of the music or the performance, is after the children have
become able to sing the song, and not before. (Mursell, 1951, p. 192-193)
Swanson also believed in the song approach:
The experiences and songs in this chapter center on singing as an activity in
itself. The related instructional objectives and listing of behaviors are
designed to be continual reminders that in an educational setting you must
point toward instructional goals, be they attitudes, increased awareness of
the expressive factors in music and the ability to respond to them, or
singing skills. (Swanson, 1981, p. 225)
Phillips (1985b, 1993), while not advocating the abandonment of the song
approach, believed that it needed to be used with caution. To teach singing by the sole use
of songs, neglecting the specific teaching of vocal techniques, is a dangerous business, he
believed. Children need to learn "good singing habits that will carry over from song to
song" (Phillips, 1985b). He went on to state that "care should be taken to avoid a return
to the days of vocal drill. Children must have time to react musically in the classroom, but
they must also be allowed time to develop the skills needed to perform musically"
Campbell and Scott-Kassner (1995, p. 131) stated that the "astute teacher" can
accelerate the development of children's voices by the knowledgeable use of songs, games
and drills. Ingram (1959, p. 87) discussed vocal exercises and the results that can be
obtained through them and stated that "exercises can be made from any sound, any word
which causes difficulty" (p. 88).
Bartle (1988, p. 7) believed that repertoire is inseparably linked to vocal
development. "Good repertoire enhances and develops a beautiful tone quality. Bad
repertoire undermines choral development." She went on to say that "many new skills
must be learned, and older skills reinforced, as the children learn new repertoire" (p. 26).
Kemp (H. Kemp, workshop, February 6, 1999; 1989, p. 28) was in agreement with
the mixture of song and formal approaches. She suggested a variety of mental images,
physical response and vocalises in conjunction with songs as techniques for teaching a
choir to sing. Stollak and Alexander (1998) agreed, stating that children can be helped to
understand the abstract concepts necessary for a good sound by the use of metaphor,
analogy, and simile.
Repertoire and techniques are of little use, however, unless the director has an idea
of the desired vocal tone. Before trying to teach a child how to sing, the teacher must first
know what the end product should be (Jacobs, 1942, p. 20, 27; Phillips, 1985b). "It would
appear that the first task of the director is to establish for himself a realistic mental concept
of the sound he wishes to hear from his children's choir" (Sample, 1966, p. 78). Unless the
conductor knows the desired sound, there is little chance of achieving it.
While directors may differ about the techniques they use to teach singing, they
agree that children can learn to sing. Age and gender are immaterial when it comes to
selecting a singing method, but the teacher must have the end product in the mind's ear
and both teacher and student must be willing to work toward that goal.
Head Voice versus Chest Voice
One concept of sound that is much discussed in the writing on children's singing is
the use of the "head voice." It is sometimes referred to as the "thin voice." Small (1998)
called it "a distinct and ethereal choral tone produced by children between the ages of
eight and fifteen," while Ingram (1959, p. 83) described the head voice as "a light,
floating, easily produced tone" and gave various techniques for cultivating that sound in
choirs. Newman (1995, p. 254) believed that a "teacher's object is to encourage young
singers to use the lighter head voice sound," later bringing that quality of sound down into
the range "between the head voice and the chest voice." He went on to suggest activities
that might accomplish that objective
Phillips (1985b) agreed that the lower, chest voice should only be used when the
upper voice is well established. He blamed the exclusive cultivation of the chest voice for a
rising percentage ofnonsingers, and a judicious use of both voices was recommended.
Weis (1936, p. 4) agreed that both voices should be used and that the head voice should
be developed first. Expert training is necessary for the use of the chest voice. Phillips
(1984) speculated that head voice singing must be taught, while singing in the chest voice
is a more natural occurrence.
Giddings (1919, p. 31) said that the two types of voices might be called the
"singing" and the "howling" registers. Children should be taught to sing softly, keeping the
song no lower than first line E, and a head voice will naturally result. Howard (1895, p.
46) agreed, stating that there are two principles of children's tonal production: "They must
sing softly" and "They must be restricted in compass of voice," as a result of which, the
chest voice "will never be heard" (p. 47).
Swears (1985, p. 62) believed that the head voice not only produces a "beautiful
sound but it also helps to extend the child's vocal range and to give greater flexibility to
the voice." The difference between head and chest voices is not merely one of range, she
stated, but also one of quality. The head voice is light and forward, while the chest voice
"may be heavy, dark or shouty" (p. 63). If the chest voice is extended into the upper
register, a definite, abrupt break in the voice may occur around the middle of the staff (A,
B, or C) as the child attempts to force the lower voice to sing higher notes. Bringing the
light quality of the head voice down into the lower range avoids the break, and the singing
will have a more consistent tone (p. 63).
Authors agreed that the head voice is the more desirable sound, and that children
should be allowed to sing in a chest voice only after the head voice has been mastered. A
head voice can be produced by singing softly and avoiding the lowest section of the treble
clef staff. This prevents the heavy, coarse sound heard by singers using a chest voice and
results in a lighter sound.
Range and Tessitura in Children's Songs
Perusal of children's music elementary textbooks from the earlier part of the 20th
Century (Giddings, Earhart, Baldwin and Newton, 1923; McConathy, Miessner, Birge and
Bray, 1944) shows a higher tessitura than is commonly found in contemporary textbooks
(Diaz, 1980). This finding corresponds with recommended song ranges of the same time
period. Hubbard (1908, p. 29) called for a range of first line E flat up to fourth space E
flat and Giddings (1919, p. 31) stated that "children of the kindergarten or first grade
should never sing below "E" (first line) or "F." They may safely sing to the "G" above
the staff." Gehrkens (1934, p. 93) agreed, saying that kindergarten children can sing songs
between first line E and fourth space E. As the child matures, the range broadens and, by
grade 5, has extended from first ledger line B to G above the treble staff He went on to
say that selecting songs with "a higher compass" will help those children whose "voice
production" may not be good (p. 94). Field-Hyde (1947, p. 136) believed that children
should generally not sing above treble clef top-line F, and that older children may easily
reach middle C and the A or B below that. Children should not be "made to sing notes
which they find difficult or tiring."
Mursell was among the first writers to suggest a change in the tessituras of
children's songs (Erman, 1981, p. 13). He stated that "the kind of high-pitched singing so
often required is not natural to them. Songs pitched too high tend to block just that kind
of spontaneous, expressive singing for which you should always aim" (Mursell, 1951, p.
Newman (1995, p. 253) advocated a narrower range, stating that D to third line B
is the most comfortable range, only extending it from A below the staff to top line F for
upper grades. Campbell and Scott-Kassner (1995, p. 130) advocated a range that is
marginally wider: middle C to third space C for first grade, widening from G below the
treble staff to G above the staff for older elementary children.
Swears (1985, p. 162) advocated keeping the tessitura of music between middle C
and fourth line D, expanding it by one or two half-steps for "mature choruses." She went
on to state that "high f's and g's should be few and far between and sung on an open
vowel" (p. 163). Swanson (1981, p. 226) concurred, although she stated that four or five
tones centering around first line E are the first to be used by new singers.
Just exactly what needs to be done to teach children to sing well is a matter of on-
going conjecture and debate. As Street remarked, "we are still hunting for a universal way
of doing it easily and well" (1927, p. 10). Phillips (1992b, p. 570) agreed, observing that
there is no knowledge base that teachers can consult to know which techniques are useful.
No one method has proven to be the perfect technique of voice training, and the ideas and
techniques being used by current children's choir directors are the focus of a portion of
Children's choirs may not exist solely for the purpose of performance (Mercer,
1972; Monk, 1987). Those directors who do not make opportunities to incorporate the
teaching of music concepts into the rehearsal miss the chance to influence the child's
future participation in, and appreciation of, music. Indeed, said Rao (1993a), "the value of
music performance in music education can be found beyond the concert stage in the
development of musicianship, the experience of enjoyment, and the psychological benefits
of self-esteem." Choirs that are considered to be of excellent quality often teach their
choristers to become all-round musicians, as well as good singers (O0eary, 1990).
According to Phillips (1988) "choral music education... is the whole process of
becoming a musically educated person."
Elliot (1993) agreed, claiming that astute listeners come from intelligent
performers. Merely listening to others perform will not aid in the development of
musicianship, for this can only be done by being involved in the music making. McRae
(1991, p. 35) stated that "choir experiences may be the only opportunity for musical
learning for some children."
In order to make the most of the learning experience, choral literature must be
carefully selected. In choosing music, not only must the musical elements of dynamics,
tempo, form and text be considered, but thought must be given to the skill level of the
choristers (Goetze, 1988). This may be one of the most difficult challenges that a director
faces: finding music and techniques that balance the needs of the next concert with the
objective of "developing thinking, feeling musicians" (Wis, 1998).
Rao (1993a) believed that there must be a balance between the challenges provided
by the literature the choir sings and the musical knowledge of the choir. By paying careful
attention to both sides of the equation, the choir can be moved to higher levels of both
performance and learning (Jensen, 1995; Goetze, 1988). This parallels the whole-language
theory which has been accepted in education, for knowledge and performance go hand-in-
Choral literature that meets the needs of children is sometimes obtained by
commissioning a work (Ferreira, 1993). Directors have found that commissions benefited
their students because the group not only received new music written with the specific
capabilities and needs of their choir, but the children "get in on the ground level of the
composing process, which helps them to understand the work and the creative thought
that go into the "ready-made" pieces they sing" (Nolan, 1995). Boonshaft (1996)
commissioned 27 compositions for his band and felt that it was "a great learning
experience for.., students." Many works and new commissions have recently been
written for children's choirs using texts from a wide variety of sources and with a variety
of voice parts (Smith, 1993).
A holistic approach to choral music teaches singers more than the notes on the
page. Children can be engaged in cognitive activities, in addition to the physical act of
singing, which enables them to solve musical problems and to understand a unique form of
meaning (Eisner, 1981; Elliot, 1993; Monk, 1987; Rao, 1993a; Roe, 1983, p. x; Sample,
1966, p. 75). As children decide appropriate instrumentation to fit the mood of a song,
compose descants, research the life of a composer, or adapt song texts, they gain a deeper
understanding of music.
It appears that teachers are endeavoring to teach more than just the physical act of
singing, for Stafford (1987) found that elementary school music teachers regarded "music
literacy" and "increased sensitivity to music" as among the most important outcomes of
vocal instruction. His respondents also said that teachers needed to know techniques
related to the production of good vocal sound, motivational techniques for singing and
how to assess their own singing instruction.
Warm-up exercises and specific facets of the music under consideration are
included in this complete approach to choral music education. Rather than an abstract
exercise rushed through as quickly as possible so that the "real" rehearsing can begin,
vocalises should be used as a teaching tool (Brendell, 1997; Farrell, 1976, p. 110; Goetze,
1988; Jensen, 1995; Rao, 1993a; Robinson and Althouse, 1995; Whitten, 1996). Choral
learning is expedited by deriving the warm-ups from the music under consideration
(Coker, 1984; L. Gackle, workshop, February 2, 1997). "If 'drills' are to be used, let
them emerge from the songs" (Nordholm, 1966, p. 22). One of the techniques successfully
employed by the boy choirs studied by Farrell (1976, p. 156) was the use of "carefully and
sequentially developed" vocal exercises to develop vocal technique. Vocal warm-ups
"were seen as imperative to good vocal health."
Jean Ashworth Bartle, director of the Toronto Children's Chorus, agreed, stating
that her choirs begin every rehearsal with "exercises that develop the voice and ear." For
example, the children hum "major, minor, diminished and augmented triads in various
keys" (Shrock, 1990). She stated that vocal exercises "sung for their own sake... are
meaningless" and there needs to be a purpose to the warm-up (Bartle, 1988, p. 8).
Froelich (1979) found that neglecting particular aspects of a song, "such as pitch,
phrasing, rhythm, diction, or dynamics," all of which can be taught in vocalises, resulted in
groups that would not rate superior in singing performances. In his study of outstanding
children's choirs around the world, O'Leary (1990) found that the best choirs did not
necessarily have the most rehearsal time, but they made the most of the time that was
available. Using vocalises to work on choral problems enables directors to correct
difficulties and prepare the total child for singing.
The question of whether or not to audition children is an area rife with
controversy. There are those who stated that children should not be auditioned, believing
that elementary age singing opportunities are developmental experiences (Haworth, 1992;
Swears, 1985, p. 17). Others believe that an auditioned choir gives the more advanced
singing student the opportunity to "experience a refined, higher-level choral program"
(Hollenberg, 1996). Bartle (1988, p. 110-112) believed in auditions, but looked for more
than vocal skills. In addition to singing, she had the child read poetry and answer
questions which required imaginative and thoughtful answers to gauge non-musical
qualities. This helped her assesses other areas, including physical health, social skills,
vocabulary level, organizational skills, ability to read language, and, of primary
Goetze (1988) also auditioned singers, but not for the purpose of elimination. She
believed choirs "should be available to all students who express an interest in singing,
regardless of their musical or vocal gifts," but only when you knew the abilities of the
choir could vocalises and literature be selected. In choosing material to use with the
singers, you can correct deficiencies and advance the skill level of the children.
Farrell (1976, p. 31) found, in his study of American boy choirs, that directors
looked at scholastic grades, previous musical experiences and musical aptitude when new
singers sought admission to the group. A "sense of individual musical responsibility" is "a
most important element in the success of the choir," according to Ortlip (1986), and can
be gauged at the time of the interview and audition.
Once a child has been accepted into a choir, placement in a junior, or training,
choir may be required. Some organizations use these choirs to give the beginning singer
the opportunity to develop vocal skills and assess the time and commitment that is
required of a member of the organization. It is both a learning and a trial period for both
the director and the singer.
Bartle (1988, p. 112) said that her new members, called "apprentices," are seated
beside an apprentice trainer for rehearsals and sing "as much of the 'home' concerts as
they can manage." She had a Training Chorus comprised of apprentices, children who
"have a lovely sound and excellent ears but not the skills to match" (Shrock, 1990).
Membership in either the Training Chorus or the Full Chorus "is based on skill
development rather than age" (Shrock, 1990).
While directors may or may not use auditions to eliminate children from the choir,
they can use them to assess other areas that are also important in a choir, such as maturity,
interest, and social skills. Information gained in this way is useful in planning repertoire
and concert schedules and in determining what vocal skills need to be taught.
Elementary age children commonly share the values of their parents (Swears,
1985, p. 16), thus making it crucial to secure and maintain the interest of all the parents
connected with a children's choral organization. Welles (1995a, p. 5) recognized the role
of parents, and says that these "dedicated individuals.. .help the Music Director take care
of all the details that are required for the chorus itself to function." This is especially true
in a new or small organization that does not have the funds to hire workers. But she was
careful to say that parents must always function under the guidance of the director (p. 6).
When possible candidates for the Board of Directors are discussed, she omitted parents
from her list of candidates (p. 8), although she later suggested "former chorus parents" as
potential Board members (1995a, p. 17.)
The Houston Children's Choir published a Parents' Handbook (1995-96) which
provided general information for both singers and parents. It stated that "Parents are not
permitted to attend any rehearsal. We also ask that parents not enter the rehearsal
building" except for certain specified activities. It also states that when parents are present
at any concerts, they "may not in any way interfere with the... staff."
The free labor available from the parents of singers can be invaluable. Volunteers
free the director from the endless details than can be involved in the administration of a
choir. Also, parents may posses skills and knowledge in areas such as law, finance or
advertising that the director does not have. Parents mustalways work under the leadership
of the director if the choir is to function smoothly and meet the goals that the conductor
Phillips (1985b) said that many children "never learn to use their singing voices
confidently." This is not because the children are unable to learn to sing, but because they
are not taught to do so. He blamed some music education programs, saying that
undergraduates are not given the necessary training that will prepare them to teach
children to sing. This is especially true of those engaged in instrumental studies, for they
are often not required to study voice.
Music teachers who have had little, or no, vocal training, or whose training
focused on a mature voice that was capable of matching pitch and using a head voice,
may have a difficult time making the adjustment to immature voices with significant
problems. Ferreira (1993) concurred, stating that college students have the necessary skills
and the opportunity to do great choral literature, but they cannot always make the transfer
of what they know and have experienced when it comes to teaching children.
Phillips (1993) said that new teachers often have no idea what a child's singing
voice should sound like and do not know what to do to correct vocal problems. He called
on teacher training institutes to "do a better job of preparing teachers in this most
important area of child vocal production."
With so many decisions to be made in the conducting and organizing of a
children's choir, directors and teachers needed additional resources to which they could
turn for help, and the ACDA National Committee on Children's Choirs was organized in
1979 (Rao, 1995). The first full meeting was at the 1981 ACDA National Convention in
New Orleans (Rao, 1989). The organizer of the committee, Doreen Rao, stated that the
main aim of the committee was to:
develop a national awareness of children's choirs: (a) as an instrument of
artistic excellence; (b) as a resource basic to music education; and (c) as a
means of reviving the joy of singing in American culture. (Rao, 1989)
Many community children's choirs currently exist across the United States, and the
work of these choirs and their directors has compelled publishers and composers to
improve the quality of the music they produce for these groups (Tagg, 1993). Books,
articles, workshops, festivals and research studies have expanded the knowledge base
available for directors (Tagg, 1993).
The work of children's directors appear to have long-term affect on the children in
their ensembles, for Long (cited in Humphreys, May and Nelson, 1992) found a significant
positive correlations between experiences in choral ensembles and an expressed preference
for "concert-type" music among elementary age students. Gawthrop (1997) concurred,
saying that involvement in the arts will create a life-long desire for artistic expression.
Children's choirs no longer exist solely to facilitate worship, but as a means of music
education and as a way to encourage aesthetic sensitivity in children.
This study examined the community children's choir movement in Florida. Both
quantitative and qualitative methods were used to determine the extent of the movement
and the activities within that movement, since studies of this type should employ a
combination of survey, interview and concert attendance. This chapter includes
descriptions of the population selection process for this study, the instruments used to
gather data, and methods of data analyses.
Overview of the Study
The goal of this study was to expand our knowledge of community children's
choirs in the state of Florida. The methods of inquiry used to gather this information were
similar to those used by Bourne (1990): interviews with children's choir directors,
workshop attendance, questionnaires and concert attendance. While many children's
choirs exist in the state, including those in churches, schools and private organizations,
this study used only those choirs which met the following criteria: choirs of boys and girls
with unchanged voices, primarily aged eight through sixteen, whose membership is not
drawn from a single organization.
Determining the Population
The National Directory of Children's Choirs (ACDA, 1995) was consulted as an
initial source of information because it contained the names and addresses of 3,985
people (B. Tagg, personal communication, November 7,1995) who self-reported an
interest in children's choirs. The 'Children's Choir' section of the directory listed 91
addresses in Florida and 104 in Georgia, for a total of 195. Georgia was originally
included because it was feared that Florida might not have more than two or three choirs.
In June 1996, each of these 195 people received a questionnaire (Questionnaire
A) (see Appendix A) that asked if they directed a children's choir, for information about
similar choirs which they might know, and for the names of children's choir directors
whose work they admired. Each name in the returned instrument also received a copy of
The questionnaires were mailed with a cover letter on University of Florida
stationery which explained the reason for the information request. A stamped, self-
addressed envelope was included. Approximately ten to fourteen days after the original
mailing, a reminder post card was mailed to nonrespondents. When a response still was
not received, they received a second letter and another copy of the questionnaire. If this
letter did not produce results, recipients received reminder telephone calls and e-mail
messages (Fowler, 1984, p. 54).
Informants were also asked about areas of concern for choirs in order that
information might be acquired which would aid in the development of Questionnaire B
(see Appendix B). The mailing of Questionnaire A ceased when the information received
was redundant. A total of 282 questionnaires was mailed. Eighteen were returned as
undeliverable, while 188 were completed and returned for a response rate of 67%. The
questionnaire revealed that seventeen choirs existed in Florida and Georgia was
eliminated from the study.
In January 1998, each of the seventeen directors received a letter which asked
them to participate in this study. This letter outlined the study and told the recipients what
would be expected of them and promised confidentiality. The letter contained a form
which the directors were requested to sign, stating that they consented to be a part of the
study. A stamped, self-addressed envelope was also enclosed in the letter. Several
attempts were made by telephone, postal cards and e-mail to contact those directors who
did not respond to the letter, requesting that they participate in the study. Responses to
that letter made it possible to determine that three choirs were not useable: one existed
only as a teaching laboratory for students at a large state university; one choir in a small
community had ceased to exist after one year; and one choir never formally came into
existence because the director had too many other commitments.
Of the fourteen remaining choirs, four directors did not respond to the request to
participate. Follow-up letters, reminder postcards, e-mail and telephone calls were all
used in an attempt to secure the participation of each director, but there was no response
from these four. Two other directors stated that their choirs no longer existed, principally
because the directors lacked enough time. Both directors stated that they hoped to
resume their choirs at a later date. Finally, one director declined to participate, citing too
many commitments. One director had temporarily discontinued his choir, citing other
commitments and health concerns, but asked to be included in the study. Seven choir
directors consented to participate in this study.
These seven directors received a questionnaire packet which included a cover
letter that told about the study, the purpose of the study, and how the information will be
used. Participants were guaranteed confidentiality, and any use of director's names would
be cited only with the written permission of the director. Instructions for completing the
packet, the questionnaire and a stamped, self-addressed envelope were included in the
packet (Smith, 1988, p. 229).
For those directors who did not return the questionnaire, a follow-up postal card
was used as a reminder. Telephone calls and e-mail messages were used to contact those
who still did not respond. Fuqua, Hartman and Brown (1982) state that follow-up contact
is useful in increasing response rates, although it is rare for more than three follow-ups to
Developing the Instrument
A preliminary study (Questionnaire A) was created to find the choirs in Florida.
As part of this study, directors listed problems that they had encountered in their own
choirs. These concerns were compiled and similar comments were grouped under one
Questionnaire B used those areas which received the most comments. The areas
of choir organization, vocal training, vocalises, music education, race and gender, and
repertoire were also included because they were germane to community children's choirs.
The questions used by Farrell (1976) and Sewell (1990) were considered in the
construction of Questionnaire B. The length of their surveys, 115 and 150 questions
respectively, is approximately the same length as the 132 item document used in this
Some of the areas Farrell (1976) included in his study were not included in this
research. Questions about the IQ, academic grades, and the previous musical experiences
of prospective singers were omitted, while the ethnicity and socio-economic status of
singers and the audition process were examined in both inquiries.
Farrell (1976) used a closed-form questionnaire with occasional open-form
questions, while Sewell (1990) asked his respondents to circle a letter which
approximated the answer. He occasionally departed from this format to ask for
information concerning academic grades or percentages of ethnic groups.
Like Farrell, Sewell also asked questions about academic grades and ethnicity. He
sought information about the use of vibrato in his singer's voices, as this study does.
Haworth's (1995) study used a questionnaire design which was apparently
difficult for her respondents to complete (J. Haworth, personal communication, January
26, 1999). Directions such as "If you teach 180 days a year, skip to 2c" (p. 198) seemed
to have confused her subjects, and, for that reason, this format was not used in this
When Questionnaire B was completed, it was field tested by five teachers known
to the author. All of the teachers were currently directing children's choirs in their
elementary schools or in their community. Their opinions on the length of the instrument,
clarity of questions, and clearness of the instructions were solicited by using a form
similar to one found in Buck (1993, p. 178-179) (see Appendix B). Their comments were
considered when the final version was constructed. The teachers returned all of the
questionnaire critiques for a response rate of 100%.
Description of the Research Questions
Questionnaire A, used during the population discovery phase of this study, asked
respondents to identify areas of concern to them as directors. Respondents mentioned
twenty-eight different issues, with some areas listed on more than one questionnaire.
Similar comments were grouped under 14 different headings.
These problems and informal discussions with directors of the author's
acquaintance were used to determine the following research questions in this study:
1. The name and location of each choir
2. The vocal training philosophy of the director
3. How the director's practices support the vocal training philosophy
4. The use of vocalises
5. The use of auditions
6. The use of training choirs
7. The inclusion of a comprehensive music education
8. Concert repertoire
9. The role of parents
10. How the different races, religions, cultural and socio-economic groups of the
community at large are reflected in the choir membership
13. How and where directors are learning the skills needed to direct a children's
After field testing and revision, Questionnaire B contained 132 items. Those
questions addressing the same facet of the choir were grouped together under a
descriptive heading to help orient the thinking of the participants. Multiple choice or
check-list formats were used to make it easier for directors to complete the instrument.
Space was provided for writing alternate answers. "Why or why not?" items were left
blank for the directors to complete in their own words. These answers might provide
added insight into the checklist answers and possibly supply new and interesting
Questions 119-124 asked for printed material which the director might use or
have prepared for various reasons. These items might give information about techniques,
repertoire and practices.
On the final page were questions 125-132. These asked for data about any
upcoming concerts and for information that would enable conductors to be contacted.
Questionnaire B, the final survey instrument, had both open- and closed-ended
format. The closed form questions gave the respondent several possible answers from
which to select the best response. The open-ended questions were based on the closed-
form items, and sought to clarify and amplify the information obtained from the
respondent (Farrell, 1967, p. 6).
Most of the questions were in the closed format. Self-administered questionnaires
frequently use closed questions since open-format items require constructing answers in
the respondent's own words. This may make the task difficult enough to affect response
rates. Inquiries which the respondent self-administers gave the individual time to research
the answers (Fowler, 1984, p. 64, 66), and thus may have rendered more valid
information. Items for which the respondent could not find a suitable category could be
answered as 'other,' and an explanation given.
The responses to the director's questionnaire were largely responsible for
determining the areas covered in personal interviews. The directors raised new areas of
interest or their answers revealed areas where additional information was needed, and this
material provided the basis for interview questions.
Surveying the Population
In February and March 1998, Questionnaire B was mailed to the directors who
consented to participate in the study. To secure the highest possible response rate,
reminder post cards, follow-up letters, e-mail messages and telephone calls were used. If
the participant did not answer the telephone, a message was left on the answer machine.
Weekly reminders were used to encourage completion of the final two outstanding
questionnaires. All questionnaires were received by early June 1998. One completed
questionnaire was returned by fax machine, five were mailed, and one was completed by
telephone interview since the director had recently had hand surgery. A response rate of
100% was achieved.
The author attended the concerts of four choirs to collect more data regarding
repertoire, vocal techniques and organization. These concerts proved valuable because
information and materials were obtained that were not considered in constructing the
questionnaire and personal contact was made with the directors. Concerts of the
remaining choirs were not attended because travel distances were great, the choir was no
longer in existence, or the director could not be contacted for a definite date and time of
Attendance at concerts provided information about fund-raising, corporate
support, costumes, choreography, choir size, stage settings, and printed program eye
appeal. Handwritten notes were taken about the concerts, conversation with directors and
parents and the music.
After the questionnaire was received and studied, five formal and informal
interviews were conducted in person, by telephone and by e-mail. These conversations
clarified answers on the questionnaire or explored new issues which the directors raised.
A printed copy of e-mail correspondence and handwritten notes of telephone
conversations were also kept. Interviews were structured individually for each director,
based on the returned questionnaire, but became less structured as subjects raised new
issues which needed to be explored (Merriam, 1988, p.73-74). Handwritten notes were
taken during and immediately after interviews. Two additional directors proved extremely
difficult to contact, in spite of many telephone calls, and the remaining director's material
did not need explanation.
Treatment of the Data
As the questionnaires were received, the data from closed-form questions were
written in the appropriate boxes on a chart (Merriam, 1991, p. 197). The answers to
open-form questions were placed into categories. As material was entered on the chart, it
was possible to see similarities and differences in the choirs. For example, the contrast in
the sizes of the choirs and the higher percentage of boys in most of the male-directed
choirs was obvious.
Data from interviews and concert attendance were also included on the chart. This
supplemented existing information or supplied material that was missing.
After this process was complete, the information was checked for mistakes and
reliability as follows:
Each item of the closed-form data was checked to ascertain that it had been
placed in the correct category. An observer selected random questionnaires and
verified the coding.
S Any discrepancies found were reexamined and corrected.
RESULTS AND ANALYSES
In this chapter, the results of this study are presented and discussed. Each choir
received a number to protect the confidentiality of the directors' information. Numbers
were assigned consecutively as the questionnaires were received.
Developing the Survey Instrument
Community children's choir directors in Florida and Georgia received a preliminary
questionnaire (Questionnaire A), asking for the names of choirs and directors and for
problem areas in their own choirs. The resulting difficulties were compiled and similar
comments were grouped under the same heading. There were fourteen different areas in
the 188 returned questionnaires.
'Funding' and 'Recruiting' received the most comments, 35 and 29 respectively,
with 'Commitment' (6), 'Parents' (5), 'Time' (4), and 'Organization' (3), garnering far
fewer statements. Eight headings received one comment each. The many comments about
'Funding' and 'Recruiting' may have been the result of the examples given in the stem
question of the questionnaire (see Figure 4-1).
Esprit de Corps |
Conmuity support |
0 5 10 15 20 25
Number of Responses
30 35 40
Figure 4-1 AREAS OF CONCERN
AREAS OF CONCERN
The areas which appeared to be most problematic were considered when
Questionnaire B was formulated. Questions pertaining to choir organization, vocal
training, vocalises, music education, race and gender, and repertoire were added to the
survey because they were of interest and germane to the study.
Summary of Results
Florida's community children's choirs were spread throughout the state and
include the area in the far northwestern section of the state, the northeastern area, the
center of the state and on both coasts. Choirs I, 1, V, and VI were in the larger
metropolitan areas of the state, while choirs III, IV and VII were in smaller cities. Choir
III was in the smallest town of the choirs being studied.
Two of the choirs were directed by women, four by men, and one by a husband
and wife team, for a total of eight directors. Only the husband participated in the study,
reducing the number to seven.
Information on the returned questionnaires showed that four of the choirs were
relatively new, having been in existence for less than five years. Choirs I and VII were
somewhat older, being between six and ten years old. The oldest of the choirs, Choir V,
was the only choir which was not started by the current director, and was more than 21
years old. While 21 years seems to refute the idea that a children's community choir is a
relatively new idea, the long history of other kinds of singing groups makes this a
newcomer to the field of vocal music.
The conductor of Choir I stated in an interview that the group began because she
had worked with church children's choirs, and wanted to "expand her repertoire and
technique." She heard the Toronto Children's Choir at an ACDA convention and was
impressed by the "sound and musicality" of the group. The choir began with about 20
children and expanded to four choirs with a total enrollment of 116 singers.
Choir H was a smaller group, with all children singing in the same choir. It began
shortly after the director moved into the community and found that there was no
children's choir. He stated in an interview that he was motivated to begin the group
because children are not often give the opportunity to produce music of a high caliber, but
are constantly surrounded by the sounds of the popular culture. The group moved from a
church setting to a local university campus as the result of a conversation during a chance
encounter between the director and the chair of the department of music.
The Toronto Children's Chorus was indirectly responsible for the beginning of
Choir II. As the director wrote on his questionnaire, he felt that the school music
program was inadequate, and that "talent existed in community and I wanted to prove it!"
He elaborated on this answer in an interview, when he recounted how he had spent several
days at a Toronto Children's Choir Camp and became acquainted with the staff Two
years later he was talking with the artistic director of the Toronto Choir, who spoke about
the problems she was having with transportation for an upcoming tour. The director
helped with the bus problem in return for a concert in his city. He then had seven months
in which to make preparations for forming a choir in the wake of the excitement generated
by the singing of the Toronto Choir. The initial choir had thirty-five members.
The conductor of Choir IV answered on the questionnaire that she formed the
current choir because children requested it. The director also wanted to direct a choir that
sang sacred music and provided home-schooled children an opportunity for a large-group
music experience. Additional details were learned during an interview with the director
when she told about the girl's choir which had existed several years previously, but had
been disbanded. The director called singers who had been members of the girl's choir and
were under the age of sixteen, put an advertisement in the newspaper and asked parents to
pass out flyers announcing auditions for the group. A small amount of money remained in
the girl's choir bank account with which to purchase music for the new group.
The current director did not establish Choir V, but he stated that the group began
as an adult choir. The adults separated from the organization some time ago and formed
another choral society, leaving the original association to the children. This was the only
choir in this study which the founder did not lead.
Choir VI was conceived as a "children's show choir," as the director stated in
answer to an e-mail question. His reply on the questionnaire said that children and parents
requested that he form the group and that he wanted to work with a children's choir. A
publicity brochure from the choir stated that the director believed that "children could
achieve artistic excellence equal to adults" and that "this unique troupe provides the...
area with a professional ensemble of talented young performers."
The director of Choir VII wrote on the questionnaire that a request from the local
symphony orchestra for a children's choir to sing in the Christmas concert was the
beginning of his group. Seven years later, the choir had grown to include four choirs and
Each of these choirs began under different circumstances, and has developed its
own personality which meets the needs of singers, directors and communities. All of them,
however, continue in existence to give children expanded artistic opportunities.
According to information supplied by the respondents on the questionnaires, each
director participating in this study had a baccalaureate degree in some area of music. Five
directors had a master's degree, one had an education specialist degree, and one a
The degrees encompassed several aspects of music, including two bachelor's and
one master's degree in music education; one bachelor's, one master's, and one doctorate
degree in piano performance; one bachelor's and one specialist degree in church music; a
master's degree in piano; a master's degree in composition; and both a bachelor's and two
master's degrees in voice. The performance area for three directors was voice, two were
piano, one was organ and one majored in composition.
For all but two of the directors, the current choir was the only community
children's choir they had directed. Two directors had led other children's choirs, one in
another state, and one that was the forerunner of the current choir. Both previous choirs
were conducted for less than five years.
Questions on the survey asked about undergraduate experiences in children's
choral music because it was assumed that every director would have earned a bachelor's
degree. Directors were not questioned about graduate study because it could not be
assumed that each director had gone beyond the undergraduate level. When asked which
experiences in undergraduate studies helped to prepare the director for this choir
experience, three either listed no experiences or said there was nothing which aided in
their children's choir experience. Two directors said that their own choral singing was
helpful in teaching their own choirs. Only one director cited undergraduate theory,
conducting and music education courses as helpful in teaching children to sing. Since
instruction in children's voices is apparently limited in undergraduate studies, the question
as to where directors learn their skills arises. Directors said that trial and error,
workshops, professional journals, books, and conversations with colleagues were ways of
learning about the child voice. One director also listed the Choral Music Experience
Institute as helpful.
The seven "veteran director-founders who were personally interviewed" for
Sewell's study (1990, p. 67) "suggested" that careful training is necessary for directors of
boy choirs. He suggested that the ideal preparation would include, among other areas,
diction, protection of the vocal instrument and tone production. None of the directors in
the present study said that they had such formal training, although their own choral
experiences might have provided incidental knowledge. Lacking specific training that
would be helpful in conducting a children's choir, the participants have educated
Because directors said they looked to professional journals as places where they
could find instruction in children's singing skills, they were asked about the journals to
which they subscribe. The most frequently listed journal, noted by six of the seven
directors, was The Choral Journal, a publication of the ACDA. Three respondents cited
the journals of the MENC and the Florida Music Educators Association (FMEA): Music
Educators Journal, Teaching Music and Florida Music Director. Two directors said they
read The Voice of Chorus America, published by Chorus America, while American Music
Teacher, a publication of the Music Teachers' National Association, and Anacrusis, the
journal of the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors, were each cited by one
conductor. Only one director listed Choristers Guild Letter, the publication written
especially for children's choirs, perhaps because Chorister's Guild was formed primarily
for church choirs.
Directors may read or consult journals to which they do not subscribe, so they
were asked which journals were the most helpful in addressing the problems encountered
in children's choirs. Three directors listed the Choral Journal. Chorus America and
Anacrusis were each cited by one director. Two directors said that no one journal was of
particular help, but occasional articles in any of the journals were useful.
Each director, when asked on the questionnaire what undergraduate experiences
would have been helpful to their current choir tasks, stated that they would like to have
had exposure to children's choirs, their vocal capabilities and the literature available for
children's choirs. They also listed observations, hands-on experiences, laboratory
experiences, interning with a children's choir, a master class with a choir director after a
concert, hearing a good children's choir, and vocal techniques for children as desirable for
undergraduate study. The director of Choir VI said that he would like to participate in
"workshops with [a] typical children's choir director."
To help in current and future directing tasks, three of the seven directors said they
would benefit from help with choral literature. They thought that a workshop or some
opportunity for a comprehensive study of repertoire was important. Also considered
helpful were choir management workshops, conducting workshops, clinicians to work
with and discuss the child's voice, and two directors thought a workshop by the Toronto
Children's Choir would be helpful.
Directors have apparently not received much undergraduate help in forming and
directing children's choirs. They must learn the skills they need through professional
literature, discussions and workshops.
Each of the seven directors involved in this study tended to cite many of the same
authors, books and clinicians on the questionnaire. Doreen Rao, author of We Will Sing!
Choral Music Experience for Classroom Choirs (1993b) and the Choral Experience
Series-Education Through Artistry (1987), was cited by five directors. Four directors
mentioned Jean Ashworth Bartle of the Toronto Children's Choir and her book, Lifeline
for Children's Choirs (1988), as among the most helpful sources; and Helen Kemp, Of
Primary Importance (1989), was referred to by three directors. Others mentioned as
influential were as follows:
Linda Swears, Teaching the Elementary School Chorus (1985)
Nancy Poore Tufts, The Children's Choir (1965)
Henry Leck of the Indianapolis Children's Choir
The Choral Music Experience Institute workshops
Ann Small of the Stetson Children's Choir
Lynn Gackle of the Tampa Children's Choir
University of Florida International Voice Symposium
Michael Houlahan and Philip Tacka, Sound Thinking (1990)
J. C. McKinney, Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults (1994), and
The Tapiola Children's Choir of Finland.
Absent from this list was the Choristers Guild, an organization formed to help
children's choir directors "develop their choirs both musically and spiritually" (Farrior,
1993, p. 118). The Guild publishes music for treble voices and a newsletter which is
designed to increase the skills and knowledge of conductors. It also holds choral festivals,
so it would seem that the organization would be visible enough for the participants in this
study to be aware of it, but the religious connotations of the organization may make the
leaders of these secular choirs want to avoid it.
Directors may not have received undergraduate training in children's voices, but
they have used many resources to learn the skills and knowledge they need to conduct
their choirs. Each of these participants has sought additional study beyond the
undergraduate degree, both in a formal academic setting and independently. Although four
directors pursued non-vocal performance areas, they chose to lead a choir. It would
appear that these choir directors welcome new challenges and seek the knowledge that
will enable them to be successful in their ventures.
Characteristics of Choir Membership
The sizes of the total choir organizations, as given on the questionnaires and in e-
mail messages, ranged from 30 to 200 children, with three choirs being in the 30-40
membership range. Choir II had 56 singers, Choir I had 116, Choir V had 140, and Choir
VII was the largest with 200 singers.
If a choir had more than one singing group within an organization, directors were
asked on the questionnaire for the number of boys and the number of girls in the most
advanced group. They were also asked for the number of children in several different
ethnic categories within that same group.
Only three choirs had more than one singing group within an organization: Choirs
I, V, and VII. Choir I had 36 in the Touring Choir, Choir V had 62 in the Advanced Choir
and Choir VII had 94 in the Concert Choir (see Figure 4-2).
NUMBER OF SINGERS
Girls outnumbered boys in all of these choirs. The two women directors reported a
lower percentage of boys in their choirs, with 17% and 18%, while the men had greater
success in recruiting boys. Choir II had 21% boys, Choir VII had 27%, Choir VI had
34%, and Choir III had the highest percentage of boys with 47%. However, the lowest
percentage of boys, 10%, was found in Choir V, with a male director (see Figure 4-3).
This would seem to suggest that male directors are more successful at attracting boys.
Choii ---- -
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
GENDER OF SINGERS
Several different ethnic backgrounds were represented in the choirs, with white,
black and Hispanic children being predominant. Questionnaire answers revealed that
Asian, Indian, Turkish, Filipino, and Haitian children also sang in these choirs, but in far
fewer numbers. Choir III had 14 Filipino children out of a total enrollment of 30 singers.
The director said in an interview that the Filipino community in his town was strong and
very supportive of the arts, many sending their children to a private denominational school
which was very arts-focused. The highest percentage of Hispanic singers was to be found
in the south Florida choir, but, considering the ethnic mix of this area of the state, this was
perhaps to be expected. The chorister most often seen in Florida community children's
choirs was a white girl. A large majority of the singers in the boy choirs in Sewell's study
(1990, p. 279) were also Caucasian, and Farrell (1976, p. 24, 30) found the same
phenomenon in the boy choirs he studied, for 74.2% of the singers were Caucasian.
When asked if the directors intended for the membership of the choir to reflect the
race, socio-economic, income and ethnic diversity of the community, the directors of
Choirs I, V, VI, VII said "yes" on their questionnaires, with one director stating that the
choir "should be reflective of the community." The others replied "no," with a common
reason being that any singer was welcome to sing, regardless of characteristics. A director
stated in an interview that the membership was determined by the quality of the singing
and by who decided to audition. In no case was it felt that race or income were used to
eliminate a child. The most commonly stated reason for excluding children was an inability
to sing well.
Directors were also asked if they had tried to recruit children from the various.
races and income groups. One director stated in both interview and questionnaire response
that no special effort had been made to do so, the primary goal of the group being to
"provide children with artistic experiences through the performance of choral music;
whoever has come, has come." Another stated on the questionnaire that the choir was
"continually trying" to recruit membership which reflected the diversity of the community,
but had been unsuccessful. Three choirs reported on the questionnaire that lack of support
by the families, particularly low income parents, was the reason a more diverse
membership was difficult to recruit. One director cited the distance to rehearsals as a
barrier for some families and another maintained that tuition was too expensive.
Questionnaire answers showed that four Florida community children's choirs were
organized so that all children sing in the same choir, while three choirs, I, V, and VII, had
more than one choir within the organization. Choir I had four choirs, Choir V had three,
and Choir VII had three choirs with an additional ensemble selected from the most
advanced group. The most advanced choirs in multi-choir organizations had the largest
Additional choirs give the directors the opportunity to more exactly suit the level
of the music to the ability of the singers. Those with less ability have the opportunity to
develop their skills and voices, while those who already know the basic techniques of
choral work can be challenged with more difficult music.
When interviewed, two directors whose organizations contain only one choir
spoke of such an opportunity for their singers. They realized the advantage this gave the
children, but had not established additional choirs because of time and space constraints.
The three choirs who had more than one ensemble in the organization were the
three oldest, with at least seven years of existence. If the other choirs continue to endure
and grow, they may also add training and preparatory choirs.
Singers in training choirs generally remained in that choir until they showed that
they could move to a higher level of music-making, perhaps one to two years. These
choirs also give children time to develop their voices, to become accustomed to singing
music of a different nature, and to singing for a longer period than they have possibly
encountered at school. This parallels what Fartell (1976, p. 30) found in his study of boy
choirs, where singers were encouraged to spend one year in a training period and to
"demonstrate the ability to move to a higher performance level."
In Choir V the director of the most advanced group also directed the training
groups, while in Choirs I and VII the training choirs were conducted by someone else. In
Choir I, information in the concert program showed that a public school or university
music teacher taught the training choirs, and the director of Choir VIL, which was headed
by a husband and wife team, stated in an interview that he conducted the most advanced
group while she was in charge of the training choirs.
Training choirs are valuable assets for any choral organization, for they provide
singers to fill openings in the more advanced choirs and they enable children to develop
vocal skills. Conductors of these choirs are usually not the founder of a multi-choir
organization, for he or she usually conducts the more advanced choir, leaving the teaching
of the most basic singing skills to someone else. The founder needs to carefully oversee
the training choirs, however, and be sure that skills are taught uniformly in all the choirs.
Directors reported on their questionnaires that each choir had at least two people
on the staff. one director and one accompanist. Choir VI added a librarian for a total of
three. Choir V used a staff of four: a director, an assistant director and two accompanists,
while Choir VII had five on staff: two directors, a chorus manager, an accompanist and a
choreographer. The largest staff was that of Choir I with a total of nine: four directors
(one for each choir), four accompanists (one for each choir) and a vocal coach. The boy
choirs in Farrell's 1976 study had an average of "3.17 persons on their musical staffs" (p.
Each of these additional people required money for salaries, supplies and expenses,
however, and, unless the funds can be secured through increased tuition or gifts, this may
make a larger staff prohibitive. Unpaid workers are always a possibility, but the quality of
work may not be what is desired and it is more difficult to dismiss the services of an eager
Only two choirs, III and IV, reported on their questionnaires that they used
student officers. These children were not in places of ongoing responsibility, but were
used to lead section rehearsals. The director of Choir IV said in an interview that the
recipients of student leadership awards were used as section leaders and these singers
were given partial scholarships.
Two directors who did not use student help said on the questionnaires that they
had not considered doing so, that the choirs worked well without student help or that
doing so was time-consuming. The conductor of Choir VI stated that student officers
were a possibility for future seasons. Community choirs, as with other musical
organizations, are places in which leadership skills can be cultivated, but it takes time and
effort to do so. A parent supervisor of student helpers might be one way in which
directors can develop skills without detracting from the prime mission of the conductor.
All staff members, whatever their status, are important, but one of the most crucial
appointments is the accompanist. A sensitive, responsible pianist is invaluable and can
make the difference in the success or failure of a choir, and, because good accompanists
are so valuable, the organization might consider paying the pianist if the director is
salaried. Sewell (1990, p. 141) found that 84% of the choirs in his study employed
accompanists, while only 22% of the conductors did their own accompanying, and said
that an accompanist is "critical to the existence of a new choir" (p. 140).
Directors should hire or recruit the best people possible for their choirs and expect
their best efforts. In return, workers should be "recognized for their huge contribution and
... thanked formally" (Bartle, 1988, pp. 195-198).
Director's Vocal Philosophies
Directors were asked on the questionnaire if they had a mental concept of the
sound that they wished the choir to make. The answer was "yes" in each case. As one
conductor commented, "How could you function without it?" Jean Ashworth Bartle of
the Toronto Children's Choir, believed that "the conductor must have in his/her mind the
ideal sound and the clear perception of the final product before starting to rehearse a
work" (Shrock, 1990). Judging the sound that the choir produces against the standard in
the director's mental ear was apparently the way in which the sound was evaluated.
The ideal sound for which these directors were listening was described in
interviews and on questionnaires in various ways: "clear, supported tone," "in tune,"
"warm, rounded tone," "vibrant, healthy, natural sound," "free head tone," "much head
voice." Four directors cited "round," "good," or "uniform" vowels as essential to an ideal
sound, the most frequently mentioned characteristic of a good choral sound, and three
directors stated that the ideal children's sound contains no vibrato.
Vibrato, they said on the questionnaires, can be allowed to develop with maturity,
an opinion which was agreed with by five of the six directors in Farrell's (1976, pp. 109,
155) study of boy choirs. Pre-puberty voices should be restricted in the amount of vibrato
heard, particularly if it is a problem.
According to information given on the questionnaire, five of the directors
considered that children's voices have two distinct registers: a head voice and a chest
voice. Ideally, no break occurs between the registers; only one equalized register can be
heard, particularly after training. Only one director thought of the singing voice as having
three registers (upper, middle and lower) and one considered the voice to be one equalized
In Farrell's (1976, p. 108) study, the directors were divided in their opinions
regarding singing registers, as they were in this study. Of the six choirs used in his study,
"three directors recognized two distinct registers: the head and chest voice," and three
"reported three distinct registers; the head, middle and chest voice."
The most frequently mentioned method of teaching children to sing well was
modeling. All seven directors stated on the questionnaires that they show their children
how to sing by singing for them. They also used praise and had their choir listen to
recordings of other children's choirs that sang with the desired sound. Three conductors
stated that they use private meetings or private coaching with their children to help them
achieve the desired sound. One director said in an interview that she had the child listen to
a tape recording of his or her own singing and critique it. This enabled the child to have a
better idea of what he or she sounded like and how that differed from the desired sound,
thus making it easier and quicker to produce the sound the director was seeking.
One director stated that he had the children do vocal exercises in different
registers, identifying the sound and feel of each. This made it possible to discuss the
registers and request a particular sound needed for a specific musical selection.
When encouraging their singers to produce the desired sound, directors had
particular phrases which they had found to work. Among them were: "Don't sound like
kindergartners," "move the sound forward in your mouth," "energize," "sparkle," "float,"
"spin the sound," and "sing on the breath."
Every director answered "yes" when asked if posture and breathing were related,
which agreed with Chivington's statement that "once posture is in place, the children can
practice breathing" (1998). The reasoning was that "changing posture changes sound,"
that "proper alignment leads to better or more effective inhalation," or that "good posture
allows better breathing and an expanded rib cage." One director stated on the
questionnaire that "demonstrations made a believer out of him." Stufft (1998) concurred,
stating that "one of the most common problems with singing.., is poor posture" and that
"poor posture makes proper breathing difficult."
To achieve the desired posture, all the directors had developmental drills that they
used. These drills were used because, as one director said on the questionnaire, "they
work." Another director said that good posture was achieved through drills and through
"nagging and praising." He also used a general description of good posture. Bartle (1988,
p. 113) suggested that posture is one area that can be concentrated on during the warm-
up section of a rehearsal.
Along with drills and exercises designed to teach posture, breathing drills were
also used by each director. Directors used "a large variety" of exercises "to make children
aware of the importance of breath." One director used the exercises to "activate and
identify the muscles involved" in breathing and to "elongate breath for long phrases." A
director wrote on the questionnaire that he used breathing drills to "get the diaphragm
going," while another wanted to "help singers realize that they can sing longer phrases
with one breath" because, as a director said, "singers don't speak in long phrases."
As with posture and breathing, directors had procedures designed to build vocal
technique. Study of the music being rehearsed was possibly the favorite way, being
mentioned on the questionnaire by six of the directors. They rehearsed trouble spots in
isolation, taught the desired singing skills, and reassembled the composition.
These techniques were used "to plant the sound, and then get it into the
repertoire," or, as one director put it, because "it works." Directors also used this as a
time management system, since to base vocal exercises on a passage from the music
"accomplishes two tasks at once:" learning the music and building skills. Two directors
agreed that this technique "relates the technique to the music" and made a "more
immediate connection to why the technique is necessary in a particular piece."
All the directors used vocal warm-ups in rehearsal. These were used not only to
warm up the muscles used in singing, but to "prepare the voice and body for work." One
director said on the questionnaire that vocal warm-ups are "critical to build sound, tone
and technique." Three conductors used this time to "clear the mind of outside thoughts"
and to "get them thinking musically." Work on "range expansion" and the opportunity to
"focus students and train their ears for the sound we are seeking" were other reasons that
directors use vocal warm-ups.
As with the development of vocal technique, warm-up material was often
abstracted from problem areas in the music, an idea that Telfer agreed with (Brendell,
1997). She felt that "conductors should note what vocal challenges arise in the repertoire
and make sure they are covered very well in the warmups." One director said on the
questionnaire that he separated problems and worked on them during warm-ups because
"rehearsal goes smoother when rough spots have already been ironed out" and that it
"assists in memorization." Other directors liked working in this way because doing so
made the children aware of the problem and that "when problems are isolated, you can
better hear what's happening."
Directors also used the traditional vocal exercises, often in conjunction with the
problem area exercises. Gackle believed in using vocalises taken from the music, because
this "cuts down on teaching time." She also used warm-ups to teach technique (L. Gackle,
workshop, February 1, 1997), as did Kemp (H. Kemp, workshop, February 6, 1999).
Erman (1981, p. 53) wrote that vocal exercises can be a valuable part of the singer's
routine and can be used to eliminate or prevent problems.
One director stated that "most problems are fixed in the context in which they
occur," rather than in vocalises. Christy (1965, p. viii) called this the "Song Approach,"
and said that "experience has demonstrated conclusively that the Song Approach, with
emphasis primarily on expression, is not only the most interesting to students but also
generates an enthusiasm and stimulus that result in an even more rapid gain in technic."
Farrell (1976, p. 155) found that boy choir directors used the music being studied for
"teaching and developing articulation."
Only two directors stated on their questionnaires that they did not isolate problems
in the musical score and fix them during the warm-up. One stated that "vocal warm-ups
are for exploration while 'work' is for rehearsal." Phillips (1985b, 1993) called this the
Formal Approach to singing and believed (1985b) that "the inherent danger" in the song
approach was that "it is doubtful that the skill of singing will be taught."
During the warm-up, directors most often worked on rhythm and melody. One
used this opportunity to work on diction and placement of the tone in the head voice,
while another taught vowel formation. Directors used the warm-up portion of the
rehearsal to accomplish a variety of tasks that resulted in a better sound.
The question of auditions was not controversial among these seven community
choir directors. Each one auditioned singers for their choirs in a variety of ways, which
was identical to Farrell's (1976, p. 52) finding in his study of American boy choirs where
each group mandated a vocal audition in addition to other requirements. Sewell (1990, p.
203) reported that all thirty-two responding directors "affirmed that admission into their
boychoir organizations is regulated by a pre-entrance audition process."
No director admitted singers who could not match pitch. Among the audition
techniques was singing a round, used by one director, and solo singing, used by six of the
directors. One director stated that, while his prospective singers were auditioned, it was
not an exacting test. He planned to more closely test the children when his organization
became large enough to support two choirs. All directors were concerned about the
child's desire to sing in the choir, and considered that aspiration during the audition.
Directors also weighed tonal strength, vocal timbre, and the ability to match pitch patterns
when assessing a child's ability to sing in the choir. One director listened for the ability to
hold a part and another considered self-reliance during the audition. How a singer's voice
would blend with other voices in the ensemble was also a consideration during auditions.
Sewell (1990, p. 209) who advised that those conducting auditions should listen
for "potential, not [the] finished product." This agreed with another participant in
Sewell's investigation (p. 209) who said that he preferred an "eight year old who has had
NO previous training. If he can match notes, he goes into my cadet/training choir."
The value of training choirs came sharply into focus when auditions were
discussed. None of the directors involved in this study accepted children who could not
match pitch, and yet there were children who want very badly to sing but cannot meet the
standard set for entrance into one of these community choirs. The goal of beautiful music
that these directors have set for themselves and their choirs is exceedingly laudable, and it
is all but impossible to achieve with even one or two voices marring the sound. Not to
help a child who is willing to be helped, though, is not in the best interests of the child or
of music, and it is in this area that training choirs and vocal coaches are invaluable.
The director of Choir II stated during a conversation that Jean Ashworth Bartle's
staff, of the Toronto Children's Choir, met with parents during the child's audition. The
staff sought to be sure the parents understood the commitment of time and money that
would be required of a chorister and his or her family. This director seemed to feel that
this parent "audition" would at least partially solve the problem of parents who did not
always bring their children to rehearsal and concerts.
Rather than using a panel of judges to evaluate the auditions, each of the seven
directors relied on his or her own judgment. This made it easier to conduct auditions
because several people did not have to be assembled, and it was less threatening for the
child who did not have to sing in front of a group.
A variety of reasons were given when directors were asked on the questionnaire
why they did not admit singers who could not match pitch. The largest choir had too many
singers apply who could match pitch and it did not have room for others. One choir gave
poor singers a trial period and private lessons, while another encouraged those who could
not match pitch to study and re-audition. As one director stated on the questionnaire and
in an interview, experience at this level is "for kids who can match pitch," and to use poor
singers "compromises the integrity of the goals and objectives" of the choir. Hollenberg
(1996) feels that, while an auditioned children's choir should remain flexible and lenient,
"students with musical ability should be able to experience a refined, higher-level choral
program without being held back by those who are not developmentally ready for such an
Since directors do not admit poor singers, they can spend their time refining the
sound, rather than teaching basic pitch matching skills. This allows them to focus on music
Comprehensive Music Education
When asked on the questionnaire if they used the choral literature to teach music
concepts, every director answered "yes." They gave various reasons for this, including "it
exposes young people to literature and cultures," "it rounds the musical experience," and
establishes "a connection to the purpose it serves." One director stated that "It can
provide a wealth of information to teach style, concepts, theory, ear training and sight
Information from questionnaire responses showed that six directors found that
melody was the easiest concept to teach with the choral literature under study. Six
directors taught dynamics and rhythm, and five directors used the music being sung to
teach form and tempo. Four respondents taught style with the repertoire. In contrast,
harmony and texture (cited by three directors), style and tone color (two directors),
tempo, timbre, and form (one director each) were considered difficult to teach with the
choral literature being studied.
About half (three) of the directors stated that they did not look for choral literature
which will teach specific music concepts. When asked why they did not select music with
concept teaching in mind, one stated in the questionnaire response that "this is not how I
choose music." Another said that he selected music "for beauty (and) variety of
experience" rather than for the concepts that can be taught with it. A director who
selected music with teaching possibilities stated that "excellent music provides for musical
growth." Another director "looks for music suitable (in range) for my voices and then
uses it to teach specific concepts." Music is selected for its intrinsic beauty, not for the
concepts which can be taught with it, which is consistent with the mission of a group
organized to sing, as these choirs are.
Music concepts can be taught with activities other than singing, and directors were
asked about their use of such teaching strategies. Only two directors did not use these
alternate methods, stating on the questionnaire that doing so was "time consuming,"
"usually not necessary," and it was "not connected to the music." One who used such
activities did so "to increase musicianship."
The learning activities used to teach music concepts are varied and included such
things as moving, listening (six directors), singing (five directors), sight reading (three
directors), and playing instruments (two directors). Every director taught music reading
with the music the choir is performing because this "broadens the learning experience,"
and "meets the goals and objectives of the choir." Music reading has immediate benefits
to the organization since singers who can read music can learn parts faster and easier,
making a larger repertoire possible.
Repertoire seemed to present one of the biggest problems for directors. Three
respondents specifically stated on their questionnaires that they would welcome
workshops or study of available children's choir music. Various professional organizations
such as MENC, ACDA, and FMEA attempt to help directors in their search for music by
holding reading sessions during their conventions. The Choral Journal, published by
ACDA, reviews music and publishes an annotated list frequently, and music publishers are
usually pleased to add potential customers to their mailing lists. Conversations with fellow
directors are another way of searching out music, as is attendance at concerts.
Unfortunately, the perfect repertoire list does not exist, for each choir is different, its
needs and capabilities unique. Prospective directors must prepare to spend sufficient time
on literature research to ensure that the music selected for his or her choir meets all
Most directors did not use a published repertoire list when selecting music. Only
two said that they used such a list. All directors looked for music in a variety of places,
such as recordings and clinicians' suggestions. Once a source has proven helpful in finding
music, directors returned to that source.
Just as directors sought literature that was suitable for teaching specific music
concepts, so some directors kept the diction and vocal problems of their group in mind
when they were buying music. Four directors said on their questionnaires that they looked
for music that would help them correct vocal and diction problems. It is "a teaching tool"
said one director, while another thought that "it gives members a sense of
Correcting these problems was not always the prime consideration, however, for,
as three directors said, music is chosen because for its "intrinsic value" and problems are
corrected within the context of the music. The directors in Farrell's (1976, pp. 151, 157)
study also said that "personal preferences and audience appeal" were the "principal criteria
for the selection of music."
The vocal range of the music selected fell generally between middle C and fifth line
F. Three directors have considered music that goes as high as G or A, while one said on
his questionnaire that he liked to keep the music in the upper range, but had considered a
lower range if it fit the text.
Directors have sought music that is appropriate for their singers and has intrinsic
value. However, they have also commissioned new music, a practice advocated by
Boonshaft (1996) and practiced by "many choirs" in Rhoden's study (1971, p. 422). Four
of the seven directors stated that their groups had commissioned music, and they are not
alone. Ferreira (1993) noted that one trend in children's choral music is that "the need for
excellent choral repertoire by children's choirs has resulted in the.., publication of many
newly commissioned works."
The study participants plan to do so again, one stating that a new work is
commissioned "every season." In two choirs, the director did any necessary writing or
Works which have been commissioned by the choirs involved in this study are:
Akakomborerwa-Lee Kesselman-4 part treble; percussion accompaniment; Boosey &
The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus-Eric Whitacre--SATB and Children's choir;
chamber orchestra and piano accompaniment; unpublished manuscript available from
Light A Candle John Purifoy, writing as Michael Andrews--2 part treble; piano
accompaniment; New Horizons Publishers.
A Psalm ofLife--Malcolm Daglish--3 part treble; hammered dulcimer accompaniment;
Plymouth Music Co.
Praise God--Budd Udell-2 part treble; French horn and piano accompaniment;
unpublished manuscript available from the composer.
Where Dwells the Soul of My Love-James Mulholland--3 part treble; keyboard and oboe
accompaniment; Plymouth Music Co.
Yo Le Canto Todo El Dia-David Bruner--2 part treble; piano and handclap
accompaniment; Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
As O'Toole (1999) found, contemporary composers write for children's choirs,
and the music they have produced is diverse and challenging. Accompaniments used
instruments other than the traditional piano, and the voice parts vary (Smith, 1993),
which is consistent with the commissioned compositions in this study.
Choirs commissioned these works for various reasons: to honor a deceased
chorister, to contribute to children's choir literature, and to be part of the literature of an
ecumenical choral festival. Five of the directors plan to request new selections primarily
because their children get to meet the composer. They said on their questionnaires that
they appreciated the opportunity the children have to become "involved in the creative
process" and it was an "interesting, enriching experience." They also considered this a
means of providing quality literature for their choir and other choirs. When asked whom
they would consider when commissioning new music, a varied group of composers was
listed on the questionnaire. David Bruner, Rupert Lang, Andre Thomas, Anna Laura Page,
Ruth Watson Henderson, Budd Udell, and Rene Clausen were among those considered,
primarily because they "understand the child's voice." "Extremely artistic" and "beautiful,
interesting music" were also given as reasons for particular composers. Commissioning
and performing music which is aesthetically pleasing helps to introduce children to the
pleasure to be found in creating beauty, and contributes to the development of a lifelong
consumer of, and participant in, the arts.
Roles of Parents
Every choir contacted for this study used parents in volunteer positions.
This free labor was valued and used in a variety of ways: as music librarian, tour manager,
chaperones, uniform chairperson, costumers, fund raising chairperson, attendance
monitors, assistant director, and on the board of directors. None of these people were paid
for his or her work and directors reported in conversation and on the questionnaire that
this arrangement has worked out well.
Parents evidently have not presented problems for most of the choirs involved in
this study. Only one choir reported on the questionnaire that they had previously had
problems with parents in paid positions, although that choir, like the other six, used
parents as volunteers. During the author's attendance at a post-concert parent meeting of
Choir IV, six positions were filled with elected parent volunteers: president, vice-
president, secretary and librarian, treasurer, newsletter editor, and costumer.
Attempts to avoid difficulties have resulted in consent forms or waivers of liability
signed by parents. Choir I had a Chorister/Parent Agreement which both parents and
singers were required to sign. This form specified attendance and behavior requirements,
as well as a minimum number of volunteer hours required of the parents. All of the boy
choirs in Farrell's study required such forms before the boy could sing in the choir
(Farrell, 1976, p. 51).
Swears (1985, p. 16) stated that building a successful choral program needs good
parental support, and stressed keeping parents informed of goals and plans. She also
believed that parents need to be made aware of the teaching and learning opportunities
available to the members of the choir. One reason to recruit parents as volunteers is that
these people are more likely to be informed of the choir's objectives and opportunities as
they work with the staff of the organization.
Sewell (1990, p. 103) believed that parents "play a key role" in the building of a
boy choir program. He quoted one of his respondents who said "Parents can 'make' or
'break' an organization." Sewell went on to discuss the many ways in which parents can
become involved in the organization, including fund-raising, car pooling, chaperoning and
This study and others have shown that parents were involved in their children's
choirs. They fulfilled a variety of functions and assumed much of the work that needed to
be done, thereby permitting the director to concentrate on the musical goals of the choir's
One choir director stated on the questionnaire that recruiting new members was a
problem because "the community has other priorities" and "there are too many activities
for children." The other choir directors said that they had no trouble securing singers for
their organizations because they used a variety of methods to attract their members. Only
one choir conductor reported on the questionnaire that he had a waiting list, although that
did not mean that recruiting had ceased.
Every choir contacted used word of mouth, relying on singers and their families to
encourage others to join the choir, and the program of the choir was designed to be
attractive to children. Both classical and popular music was included in the repertoire so
that singing was appealing to prospective and current singers.
Local schools were places where new choir members might be found. Four choirs
reported on the questionnaire that they tried to attract singers from these areas, including
three choirs that sang in the local schools so that potential singers could see and hear them
and possibly want to join. Choirs also performed in other venues where potential members
could see and hear them.
It was interesting to note that only two of the seven participating choirs used the
local churches to recruit members. Most churches have choral programs and would seem
to be the ideal place where new singers might be secured. In many churches, children's
choirs are an integral part of the ministry of the church, forming a ready-made pool of
potential recruits. When an adult choir is the only choral organization within a church,
many members have children at home who might be interested in singing. These families
obviously understand the value and joy of singing, since they make the effort required for
their own choirs.