[Moore, T. 2003. Something to Sing About. In Children and Families, 17 (Fall): 14, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]
Voices of the National Head Start Association Choir soared at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. I was privileged to lead them. If you weren’t there, I wish you had been. As part of the NHSA conference, this volunteer group of Head Start staff, parents, friends, and even a conference exhibitor sang patriotic songs that lifted the spirits of a very receptive audience. I came home excited about an idea for you. You can have a joyful experience just like this one; the choir can be a model fob your own local, regional, or state wide Head Start choir. I can hear you thinking, “Dr. Moore, have you lost it? Why in the world would I want to do that?” There are several good reasons. Executive Director Sarah Greene developed the idea of a national Head Start choir five years ago to provide conferees with an opportunity to meet a variety of people and collaborate in new ways. I loved her concept. Head Start bus drivers, cooks, directors and regional administrators could stand together all contributing their voices to the song. Almeta Keys, executive director of the St. Mary and Vermillion CAA Head Start in Franklin, Louisiana, agreed to organize the choir. We had 35 participants that first time; now we’re up to nearly 60. You don’t need a national organization to start a choir. The Newark Preschool Council Head Start in New Jersey has had a choir for two years. “It’s brought a sense of togetherness among the staff,” says Executive Director Beverly Lynn. “Staff members who don’t sing enjoy just listening to it. It’s fun for everybody.” The Newark choir sang during the Annual Conference’s gospel concert. A choir can bring a renewed sense of community to your program. Just as music fosters social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development in young children, it can bring those benefits to the grown-ups. And it’s fun for both participants and listeners. Imagine your students’ excitement as they view you in a new way and see how you cooperate with others. They’ll figure out that they can do that, too. It doesn’t have to be complicated to set up. The Newark choir, for example, began with a parent coordinator who sent out letters inviting parents and staff members to join. The choir holds several rehearsals before a performance but doesn’t rehearse at other times, so it’s not a big time commitment for busy people. Intrigued? Here’s how to start:
Get permission from you Head Start director.
Organize the choir by picking someone with good people and leadership skills who can make others comfortable. (The choir should not be a task for your program’s director, who is usually busy with many other responsibilities.) The organizer might send out letters inviting teachers, other staff members, parents, local high school students, and senior citizens to houin you Head Start choir. Ask them to come to the first rehearsal on a certain date. Explain in your letter that there will be tree rehearsals before your first event.
Find a location for your rehearsals. You might meet at a center, a church, or a school.
Shoot for one concert per year, and consider trying the concert to a holiday or other special event. You could organize a state Head Start choir to sing a your next state conference, and try to include representatives from different regions.
Look for someone with musical background to be the conductor or leader, and chaos a leader who welcomes all participants – including those who haven’t sung before.
Start your rehearsals one to two weeks before the concert. I suggest two hours rehearsal time. Schedule rehearsals for times when the greatest number of singers can be there. Offer child care.
Select a variety of music, not just music from your own culture. Check local music stores for music, and ask for suggestions. Encourage participants to teach their fold songs to the choir. Develop a list of favorite songs sung in your community, or compile an ” Our 50 Favorite Songs” list, getting ideas from every in your program. Then choose your repertoire from that list. Be aware that you’ll be limited in your song choices if you’re working with less experienced singers.
Find an accompanist from a local church or synagogue. I you locate people who can play by ear, use their skills.
Let people know that eve if they don’t want to sing, they can still be a choir member support staff. These non-singing members can make copies, set up chairs, cook for a part after the concert, and help in many other ways. Open the experience to your policy council members as well.
Keep your concerts short. Think 45 minutes of singing, not two hours. Invite non-singers to provide greetings or readings. Teach the audience new songs. Include a song or two that children can sing later in their classrooms, such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I guarantee that children will love hearing that kind of piece from your choir. Have a great time! And let me know how your new choir strengthens your program.
© Thomas Moore, 2003 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.