Teaching (VERY) Young Children – a cheat sheet*

Teaching (VERY) Young Children – a cheat sheet*

CAVEAT:  if you don’t want to teach very young children, THAT’S SUPER-FINE BY ME. You just don’t get to judge those of us who choose to do so. mmmkay? (Also, this particular blog post may not be the one for you. And? If you happen to be of the opinion that teaching young children to sing is somehow detrimental or unhealthy, please take a look at this 2003 position paper by the American Academy of Teachers of Singing. thankyouverymuchokaybye)

And if you’re considering teaching very young children, here are a few things to get you started. Or maybe to give you some new ideas. You know, if you’ve been teaching children for a long time anyway.  Which many of you have. Because: HELLO IDEAL CLIENT FOR MANY INDEPENDENT VOICE TEACHERS.

clearly, i am an ideal cat. however, i am not an ideal cat for every hooman on the planet. because: so fluffy. AND THAT IS OKAY. it is okay to say: I DO NOT WANT A FLUFFY CAT BECAUSE I DO NOT LIKE CLEANING DUST BUNNIES THE SIZE OF TEXAS OUT FROM UNDER MY BED EVERY DAY. AND ALSO: HAIRBALLS. I DO NOT LIKE HAIRBALLS. this does not mean that you get to tell people who DO seem to enjoy cleaning dust bunnies the size of texas out from under their bed every day that they are doing pet ownership wrong. even if they also appear to enjoy cleaning up hairballs. EVEN THEN.

thing the first: resources & curriculum

Look. If you want resources? You should really just stop reading this right now and go over to The Full Voice website. (I know, I KNOW: who tells their blog readers to stop reading? hello …? hellooooo? I’ll just keep going for anyone who may come back. Because: I’m a giver.)  You’re going to find FREE resources over there (you know, if you haven’t already), including downloadables, webinars, a podcast series, and – THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL: a curriculum.

You know. That thing that piano teachers have about a million to choose from? YEAH. THAT. A curriculum that will help you guide your students through learning to read music, learning ear training, learning rhythm training, learning sight singing, tonic sol-fa, etc., etc., ET CETERA. Order the entire teacher package and get a discount. You will not be disappointed. PINKYSWEAR.

what’s this i see? you came back? it was the promise of more cat pictures, wasn’t it? i thought so.

thing the second: community

Guess what? There is an online FaceBook Group (that was started by Nikki Loney (yes … she’s one of The Full Voice people. and, yes … she’s pretty freaking committed to teaching young singers AND to making sure everyone else who wants to has ALL THE THINGS THEY NEED TO DO SO WELL) and Dana Lentini) that is just for people who teach singing to young people. You can ask ANY OLD QUESTION you want (well, maybe not ANY OLD QUESTION … keeping your questions relevant to teaching young singers will most likely NOT result in you getting kicked out of the group so … there’s that) and chances are HIGH you’re going to get some great answers to your question. It’s a super-supportive community for YOU, oh teacher of young singers, and it is called: Voice Teachers for Young Singers. (Because, OF COURSE IT IS.) Go ahead and join up; tell ’em I sent ya’.

we’re the black-tabby-cat-group. see how our name perfectly reflects who we are? we are very smart cats for naming ourselves that.

thing the third: repertoire choices

Okay, so … choosing repertoire for young singers can be tricky. I GET IT (and I also know it’s easy to not do it well) so here are two options options to help:

The Royal Conservatory of Music’s Syllabus:  It’s online. It’s free. It’s downloadable. It’s searchable. It’s been around for, like, a hundred years (ie it’s been tested by teachers for a long time). It’s updated every decade or so (the next one is scheduled to come out in 2019).  AND? There’s TONNES OF CANADIAN CONTENT (y’all know I’m Canadian, right? Check out Donna Rhodenizer‘s stuff especially. It’s kind of the bomb.). What could be better?

Weeelllll … there are perhaps a few things that could be better. Given that the RCM Syllabus tends not to include contemporary music theatre repertoire (and by “tends not to”, I mean “absolutely does not”), or any CCM (that’s Contemporary Commercial Music, not Contemporary Christian Music. Although, the RCM Syllabus doesn’t include any Contemporary Christian Music, either, come to think of it …), you might want to beef up your repertoire choice resources with something like Nate Plummer’s Musical Theatre Repertoire Guide for Kids. I mean, when someone takes the time to organize over three-hundred songs into twelve lists with titles like: “Golden Age for Girls Under 12”? YOU INVEST IN THAT. Because it’s going to make the choosing-repertoire-for-young-singers part of your teaching life SO MUCH EASIER. YES. YES IT IS.

will these e-books make your teaching life easier? YES THEY WILL HOOMAN. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

thing the fourth: cultivating appropriate expectations & teaching methods

So, we all know intuitively that a six-year-old is not the same as a sixteen-year-old. But do we know how those differences may change our expectations for that six-year-old or our way of teaching that six-year-old? Because when we teach very young singers, we’re not just teaching little adults. Or, you know, small teenagers, are we? (The correct answer here, in case you’re wondering, is NO. NO, Shannon, we are not.) There are some really wonderful texts out there now that talk through child anatomy and physiology and how that anatomy and physiology (ie the actual vocal instrument) affects our expectations for what children can do. Jenevora Williams’s Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults is a GREAT resource both for understanding the young vocal instrument and for getting ideas of how to implement that information in your daily teaching. I know, I KNOW: it’s a DVD + Book Combo. Do you even have a DVD player right now? Fear not: she’s written a BUNCH of fantastic articles that don’t require possibly outdated equipment to read. Try THIS ONE for a start.

the more you know, right hooman? you want to know what i wish i knew before i put these glasses on? THAT THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE MY EYES ALL SQUISHY. i wish i’d known that.

 

SO. There you have it. Four things to get you started (or to inspire you further!) on your path to teaching very young children to sing. Unless you don’t want to teach very young children to sing. Which, as we have already discussed, is TOTES FINE. YOU DO YOU AND ALL THAT JAZZ.

You can teach your face off … I can help.

*I thought about calling this post a ‘resource list’. But that doesn’t rhyme. Also: REBELLIOUS.

adjudicating 101

adjudicating 101

one pesky issue you will inevitably encounter when adjudicating … and how to not piss off the entire room as you handle it

I pretty-much love adjudicating almost as much as I love teaching. Seriously, what’s not to love? Singers of all ages and stages performing their hearts out, excitement of not knowing what you’re going to hear next (I actually LOVE this part the most; I mean, IT COULD BE THE NEXT PAVAROTTI UP THERE! (what? IT COULD)), the chance to encourage young singers and support other teachers, and, of course, the opportunity to run your own little comedy show for a captive audience while you do all the other things (okay. yeah. I might love that part the most).

Cat, Feline, Animal, Domestic Animal

Staring-into-your-soul-grey-tabby cat would like you to know that, contrary to what I just wrote in the opening paragraph, IT IS NOT ALL SUNSHINE AND ROSES OUT THERE IN ADJUDICATING LAND.

Staring-into-your-soul-grey-tabby cat is absolutely correct on this point. There are a few sticky situations that come up when adjudicating … And I’m here to help you not make enemies of the people who hired you to adjudicate (or the singers, and/or their parents, and/or their teachers), while still doing the job they hired you to do.

sticky thing the first*: inappropriate repertoire choices

Domestic, Cat, Little, Cute, Kitten

I-did-nothing-wrong-ginger-tabby kitten doesn’t realize that she’s too young to read Stephen King’s The Shining, because, even though it may be great literature and even though *technically* she can read all of the words in the book and understand what they mean? She is not emotionally mature enough to handle the subject matter and will be scarred by it for the rest of her life. [Not that I am speaking from experience with a certain set of Freddy Krueger movies that I may or may not have watched at a birthday party in eighth grade. THANKS A LOT EIGHTH GRADE FRIEND]

So, yes. You will encounter a whole lot of inappropriate repertoire choices at singing festivals. It’s just … a thing. And – I GET IT – we all have that one student (especially when we’re starting out) that we make little deals with against our better judgement: I’ll let you, dear ten-year-old student, sing “Let It Go,” even though it’s written for a pro adult belter to sing. AND IN EXCHANGE, YOU WILL SING A LOVELY LITTLE FRENCH FOLK SONG FROM THE RCM LEVEL 2 LIST. YES YOU WILL.** Ahem.

But, understanding WHY these things happen doesn’t negate the fact that it’s the adjudicator’s job to give constructive feedback about the performance … and whether the repertoire is working for the singer is part of that feedback.

There are a lot of ways that repertoire can be inappropriate for a singer (White teenager dressed in tennis gear singing “Summertime”, anyone? yeah. I saw that. Or how about the eight-year-old dressed in full sequins, doing a Fosse-inspired dance routine to “The Gospel Train”? yeah. I saw that too. I’ve also seen young teens doing “All That Jazz” which: your moves aren’t sexy enough but PLEASE DON’T BE SEXIER; YOU’RE FOURTEEN. #SOAWKWARDFOREVERYONE), but right here and now, let’s just focus on the kind of inappropriate that is encapsulated by anyone under sixteen singing anything written for the adult voice. And what to say in response.

Kittens, Cat, Cat Puppy, Rush

Five tabby-kittens-of-varying-colour-schemes would like to know WHY? WHY CAN’T THEY SING “SOMEONE LIKE YOU”?!?  THEY LOVE THE TUNE AND THEY CAN SING ALL OF THE NOTES.

Okay friends, three reasons anyone under sixteen likely shouldn’t sing rep written for adults:

REASON THE FIRST

The obvious one: the actual song is written for the actual adult voice. This applies to music theatre, pop, rock, classical, and pretty-much ANY STYLE YOU CAN THINK OF. And because young singers do not have the physical coordination and anatomical development of an adult, they will not be able to sing a song written for adults and sound like an adult. And this can lead to all kinds of annoyingly-difficult-to-correct tension patterns and vocal production issues. Not to mention: it just sounds wrong.  (The number of times I’ve heard / read people state that Jackie Evancho sounded “just like a real opera singer” when she performed in America’s Got Talent …? Honey: NO REAL OPERA SINGER SOUNDS LIKE THAT. AND IF THEY DID? THEY WOULD NOT HAVE A CAREER. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A CHILD WITH A CHILD’S PHYSIOLOGY AND MOTOR COORDINATION WHO IS TRYING TO SOUND LIKE AN ADULT OPERA SINGER SOUNDS LIKE AND NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THAT AT THE OPERA HOUSE.)

REASON THE SECOND

It’s just plain awkward when young singers sing about experiences that they are physically too young to have had. If you are fourteen years old (AND I KNOW THAT YOU ARE FOURTEEN YEARS OLD BECAUSE YOU ARE ENTERED IN THE “14 AND UNDER” CLASS AT THE FESTIVAL), I do not believe you when you tell me that the man you married had an affair and then told the public about it so now you are burning all of your correspondence and hoping that your husband burns too. (That’s “Burn”, from Hamilton … in case you were wondering***.)  On a purely physical level (and leaving aside point #1, above), you do not look like a woman who has been married, much less married long enough for your husband to have had an affair and to have gone public with that affair. I mean, when did you even get married? AT EIGHT YEARS OLD?

REASON THE THIRD

And on an experiential level, dear fourteen-year-old, I HOPE you do not have anything in your life from which you can draw to present mature subject matter with integrity. There are reasons (I mean, beside point #1) that only my adult students sing “Climb Every Mountain”. Are there any lyrics in this song that might be objectionable for a young singer to perform? Obviously not; this is super-dooper wholesome Rodgers and Hammerstein, we’re talking about! However, it feels pretty awkward taking life-advice from a twelve-year-old, #amiright?

Cat, Cute, Mammal, Animal, Fluffy

Super-philosophical-grey-tuxedo kitten gets it, but would like me to get to the part about how to talk about this without ANGERING ALL THE PEOPLE the next time he adjudicates.

script-da-doo-dah-days

Right! Here are the basic scripts I use pretty regularly (feel free to commandeer for your own needs):

ON THE PAGE: Great song! Be sure to continue exploring the repertoire written for your age. Have you looked at [insert name of appropriate rep that is similar in style or message or character] yet?
IN PERSON: I can see why you love this song – I do too! Are there other songs you’re working on that have a similar style [message | feeling | character, etc.]? I wonder if you’ve looked at [INSERT SONG] before? The problem with singing songs that are written for older singers now is that you have a limited window of time to sing the songs that are written for your current age. You know what song I WISH I could perform? “Naughty” from Matilda. But I don’t get to because I am too old. YOU still have time to sing this rep. But in five years? You won’t be able to.  You’ve got a solid thirty years (if not more!) of being able to sing “History of Wrong Guys” but the rep that’s written for the young voice? Very limited time. So don’t miss out on the awesome rep that is written JUST FOR YOU!

ON THE PAGE: The subject matter may be a little mature for this young singer but sung today with great enthusiasm [passion | engagement | feeling]!
IN PERSON: Your love for this song is so evident and you already have a great start on the emotional commitment required to present it with integrity. So … you’ve done a lot of things for love in your life, have you? [Referring here to “What I Did For Love” … and delivered with a HUGE GRIN ON YOUR FACE] At fifteen years old, you’ve lived long enough to be able to look back on your love life and say that you didn’t regret what you did? WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT! Seriously though; see where I’m going with this? I love the things you’re working on in the song, now see if you can find those things in a song that you can relate to even more immediately.

French Bulldog, Summer, Smile, Joy

SEE HOW HAPPY THIS FRENCH BULLDOG IS TO DELIVER THE NEWS THAT THIS STUDENT IS SINGING INAPPROPRIATE REPERTOIRE!? THAT IS THE FACE YOU CAN USE, TOO! (There are no pictures of cats with this face because cats say everything with disdain (and also: EFF YOU). AND THAT IS NOT THE LOOK WE ARE GOING FOR AS ADJUDICATORS. (Although, I can’t control what’s happening on your inside face.))

ON THE PAGE: What a [poised | elegant | enthusiastic | engaged] delivery of this song’s message! Be sure to come back to this song in a few years when you have greater depth of experience to draw on to make this performance even more impressive.
IN PERSON: What a wonderful song choice; I can see that you connect with the meaning of the text and are invested in communicating it. Pinky-swear with me that you will sing this song again in ten years and then in twenty years and again in thirty years. I guarantee that as you gain life experience, you will find greater and greater depths of meaning in this song and that those greater depths will propel what is now an engaging performance to absolute KILLER performances that will touch our very souls.

Now GO FORTH AND TALK ABOUT INAPPROPRIATE REP CHOICES WITHOUT PISSING PEOPLE OFF!

You can adjudicate your face off … I can help.

ps soooo …. there’s a lot of ALL CAPS USAGE in this post. I’m Canadian so I’m going to apologize for that. BUT I’m also going to mention that I’m not actually yelling.  I’M JUST REALLY REALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS STUFF. #werestillokayright?

pps I wrote an adjudicators’ cheat sheet a while ago and I feel like … if you made it through the madness that is this entire post, AND THE POSTSCRIPTS? THIS IS YOUR REWARD. (I mean, if you want it. #nopressure)

* There are many sticky things in adjudicating land. Like, at least five that I can think of off the top of my head. But I’m saving those for other blogs. Because I wouldn’t want to run out of material, #amiright?

** Okay. I don’t actually talk to my students this way. (I mean, in my head, maybe.)

*** AS IF any of the voice teachers reading this blog don’t know what song and/or musical I’m referring to here. #butjustincase

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