As a teacher, I love revamping routines and “the way we do things” each year so that rehearsals don’t become robotic and so I am making sure I am always intentional in my teaching and leadership. One of the best innovations I made to my choral classes was implementing monthly themes. These themes served 4 purposes:
- Guide instruction on specific skills
- Foster community and encourage teamwork
- Create a common goal for the ensemble
- Teach life skills and enforce good character
Here are some themes I used last school year and how they worked:
- August: Boot camp! – Since August is not a full month on the school calendar, I used these few weeks to drill basic skills: how to label solfege, how to find do/label key signatures, review Takadimi and rhythm patterns, how to sing choral vowels.
- September: Musicianship – For the first full month, we took all of our foundational skills and used them in our repertoire. We did a lot of sight reading, and look through our scores for basic dynamic terms to make sure we knew how to sing them appropriately at sight. We defined musicianship as a class, and recited the definition sporadically during rehearsals. At the end of the month they took a musicianship exam to show their mastery of musicianship. I wrote a post about this theme in more detail here.
- October: Walking the walk, and talking the talk! – This month was dedicated to music terms! From dynamics, tempo markings, conducting terms, textures, and other stylistic markings. At the end of each week we quizzed that week’s batch of terms. Wouldn’t it be great for students to always know whether they are singing a homophonic or polyphonic passage?
- November: THANKS! – This was our first non-music theme. Since Thanksgiving occurs during November, and we were singing Pilgrims’ Hymn by Stephen Paulus, it felt appropriate to connect our repertoire to the particular season we were in. We had two activities: 1) Students wrote letters of thanks to peers, teachers, admin, and family, thanking them for supporting their music education, and 2) We started a hashtag for Instagram or Twitter to promote 30 days of thanks, where each day we posted something or someone we were thankful for. You can read more in detail about this theme in this post.
- December: GIVE! – Another non-music theme, where we practiced the opposite of giving thanks, we gave! Since December is concert season, this was an easy theme to coordinate. We decided to choose a cause or organization to donate to, and use it as our ticket in to the concert. We ended up doing a canned food drive and donated to a local food pantry.
We also devoted an entire month to sight reading, doing a pre-test and post test to see how students improved over the month. There’s a lot you can do to add a little purpose to each month that will still leave you plenty of time to rehearse and refine! The beauty of these themes is that they can be designed to take place outside the classroom!
Have you ever tried themes in your classroom? Do you think it would beneficial? Give it a try, and let me know how it goes! Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dafnecholet/
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