Using the title of our first book is a great way to characterize what it is like to work with and teach an all treble group of choirboys at the end of a day!
I am frequently asked how we are able to get the boys to stand so still and remain so focused during our concerts and other appearances. The short answer is that they don’t always. The longer answer is that, “Perfect practice, makes perfect performance” . . . or close to it. Practice only makes permanent.
When we rehearse, we try to do it like we are on the concert stage.
Here are some of the very important things I have learned about working with just boys, in no particular order.
- In our two hour rehearsals, the boys stand for the majority of the time and I have them move around during that time. They go into different three row formats, or get into a large circle. Boyish energy is contagious and infectious and I use that to engage not only their minds, but their hearts and voices. Boys need physical activity to learn.
- I also move around during the rehearsal, never simply standing in one place at the front of the choir. I praise individual boys as I pass them, encouraging and approving their stance, tone, diction, focus and sound. Boys need genuine praise and approval to learn.
- I use competition in rehearsals too; by section, by row and by age, I see which group is the strongest in the task we are rehearsing. Boys need healthy and fair competition to learn.
- If I ask the boys to respect me, then I must respect them, their answers, their views, their efforts and their point of view. Boys need to be respected to learn.
- Boys love to mentor other boys. Older boys to younger boys and returning boys to newer boys. Boys need good role models in their ranks to learn.
- Our rehearsals are structured and begin right on time [most of the time] and end on time. No rehearsal order of songs is ever set in stone and the boys know when it is time to start and end and what goes on in-between. We may laugh and struggle during rehearsals, but there is never confusion about what we are there for. Down time is before we start and after we end. Boys need structure to learn.
- I use humor to get many points across and try to let them answer what they think the cause of wrong notes or words might be. Boys need ownership of the task to learn.
None of this is “new” or “magic”, rather it is essential to working effectively with just boys and it does in fact, work!
I also believe that when a boy is or becomes angry, that dealing with the real cause of the anger and frustration is the key to abating that anger. At the root cause of all and any anger in a boy, is a feeling of sadness and not necessarily madness (anger). Realizing this is helpful in getting to the real cause and remediation of the anger. My philosophy is that there are no truly ‘bad’ boys . . . no boy really wants to be bad . . . but there are certainly ‘sad’ and ‘mad’ boys who are misdiagnosed as ‘bad’ boys all the time!
As my Tour Choir boys and I prepare to leave on our concert tour to Minnesota in a few days, this will be my last Blog during the summer months. I’ll re-connect with you in September!