Starting a Homeschool choir
My apologies to all about the delay in summarizing responses regarding the formation of a home-school choir; I'm trying to get that crazy DMA dissertation written. :) Listed below are some of the few responses received. If you're curious about how we're setting things up, I can now refer you to our website: www.brhsc.org (Blue Ridge Home School Choir). Our handbook (PDF file) will give you all the details.
Interesting note: requests for compilations outnumbered helpful hints about 3:1. There's potential out there, and I'm envisioning regional and national home-school choir festivals...
-Robert Boer, Montreat College
I love homeschooling, and am glad we did it, but organizing homeschoolers is
like herding cats. They are notoriously "self-directed", and not used to
regimentation at all. On the other hand, they are an ever-growing part of
the population, and are very creative.
(name withheld by request)
A group of parents and I are doing something related here in Raleigh,
creating a youth oratorit society (European-style, ages
13-undergraduate) as an independent non-profit organization but
sponsored by my church. I've just joined Chorus America and ordered
their Handbook. I've also been sent some contacts for home-schooling
by a parent who has done so and been warned that the home-school
networks/e-mail lists don't particularly like or pay attention to
for-profit messages, so we're working our publicity through churches
and non-public schools as well as through what home-school contacts
we can garner.
- Patricia Warren
I would reccomend
designing your program in the same fashion as you would any community
choral organization while just making it specifically geared
towards homeschoolers. We advertise on homeschool websites and
through homeschool newsletters in addition to the public schools
and local newspapers. We find that the homeschoolers are, in
a sense, more eager to participate because they use our choir
as their 'music class'. The only downside I have found is that
homeschool families tend to be much less supportive of choral
activities beyond the basic weekly rehearsals (things like festivals,
tours, major concerts, etc.) for many reasons, but most of which
come down the the comfort of having their children away from
them when they are used to being with them all of the time.
- Stephanie Charbonneau, Artistic Director
Cappella Girls' Chorus
Port Orchard, WA
Sounds like your biggest problem will be communication. If
everyone has e-mail and if you build a working phone fan-out system for
those who don't, you should be in good shape. My children's choir is school
age singers Grades 4-8. All are in public school but in three different
buildings with different music teachers. Communication is key. Good luck!
- Barbara Conroy, director
Grosse Ile Children's Choir
Grosse Ile, MI
My husband and I are both choir directors, me with my degree in Music ed, he with his in vocal performance. We tried a homeschool choir and recorder group about three years ago. I would like to say it went well, but it did not. I homeschooled our kids for 4 years but maybe because I was an educator, I had a different outlook than most homeschooling parents. The parents did not take music for the children seriously. They didn't seem to understand the need for them to be at a rehearsal and it was kind of hit and miss. Needless to say, it didn't go well and I finally gave up after a year of trying.
I suggest you treat this like a large "children's chorus" program, of which
there are MANY fine ones in this country. These groups often range from k-12
with choirs for various levels of experience, achievement etc.
If your inquiry to Choralist doesn't turn up a lot of specific ideas, you
might want to contact Chorus America. Their regional rep in your area will
consult with you (free) about how to get this up and running.
- Larry Kent, Music Director
Florida Pro Musica
This is a continuation of the compilation of responses regarding the formation of a home-school choir in the Asheville, NC area.
-Robert G. Boer, Montreat College
You may want to put a message out to NHEN (Nat'l. Home Education Network) at www.nhen.org as they would be able to reach the various homeschool communities near you.
- Jennifer Biggs Walton,
locals #47& 353, member of the RMA (Recording Musicians Assoc.), and founder/director of SCALE
I ran the (city withheld) Homeschool Choir for six years. It was generally
a one-level group of non-auditioned singers, ages 5-15. One season
when we reached 40 singers, I divided them into two groups, but
generally we were one group of about 30 kids.
I ordered roughly 7-8 octavos (2-3 part music at the beginner and
intermediate levels). We rehearsed 18 weeks and gave a 40 minute
concert plus sometimes we sang at a nursing home. We rehearsed once a
week during the day at about 10 am for one hour. I charged $15-17
materials fee which included a folder of music and a practice tape
given out half way through the semester. The semester fee was kept
low to accommodate families ($150 a semester which is about
$30/month). This is about half of what our local Parks & Rec Dept.
charge for classes. In order not to compete with all the other choirs
in this area, I scheduled the first concert in January (so we avoided
the holidays) and the second one early in June.
I also arranged a solo class that would meet afterward for an
additional half hour to work on solo and small ensemble pieces with
more advanced singers. I charged and additional $50 fee.
I have since passed this choir on to someone else, due to personal
issues (mainly burnout). There were a few things that bothered me
about working with the homeschool population and I would restructure
things differently if I did it again, but I'll let you know these now
so you can plan for worst-case scenarios.
Up front, I will tell you that I am a successful choir director and I
still teach other groups. Parents are always pleased with the work I
do as well as other colleagues in the field. With that said, here are
1. The homeschool population is VERY transient. They like to sample
classes and think nothing of dropping out (even two weeks before a
concert). They also take vacations at non-school times so they might
leave to go to Europe for six weeks in the middle of your semester.
They want a chance to "sample" the class. If they don't like
traditional teaching styles, then a choir is probably not for them.
2. The families I worked with weren't always educated about how choir
worked. Attendance was an issue. Also, some parents felt they could
suggest where I should seat their child. Some parents felt that choir
was for social purposes.
3. Because of the transient nature of the choir, there was a fair
amount of turnover in the group so skill levels were always in
flux.... something that a multi-tiered program probably would have
4. Many homeschool parents have lax standards of discipline. This did
not affect my rehearsals since I could keep my own standards, but it
affected areas around the church where children were allowed to run
(and damage church landscaping). I also had to train children how to
behave in the church sanctuary since many of them were not
5. Many homeschoolers participate in drama programs (since they have
time). Many of our local drama programs teach damaging ways of
singing. I spent a lot of time "un-teaching" to get kids to produce a
more classical singing style.
There were, of course, many rewarding things about teaching this
group. Namely, that the classroom discipline issues were almost nil.
And those kids who were committed learned so much and progressed so
much further than any public school kids I taught.
- Name withheld by request
We started a children's choir here in 1998 because of the homeschoolers' need for music--they were not taking advantage of what is available in the schools, primarily due to scheduling concerns and churches here don't do children's choirs anymore as a rule. We did not limit it to homeschoolers, but certainly homeschoolers were the majority of our singers early on, and continue to be our core.
We have run it and organized it like we would any other choir, though it is sponsored by the church and offered to the entire community. We now have 55 singers in two choirs--grades 3-4 and 5-8. The age group split was a huge leap forward. We also offer a theory class specifically for homeschoolers at mid-day during the week.
We have done a couple of things with other children's choirs and those have been extremely helpful. The school teachers have learned that we are accomplishing more than they can because we have the numbers, even though we only rehearse an hour and 15 minutes a week, so the best teachers are recommending that their best kids come and sing. That helps a lot. We do not audition for entrance, only for placement and seating. We've had occasional problems with monotone singers, but usually in the early grades. They have without fail either learn to sing on pitch or decided that this was not for them. We do work individually with those kids.
Professionally and relationally, this is one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. Good luck. Holler if you have questions.
-Ric Smith, Wesley United Methodist Church, Muscatine, IA