For the last 10 years or so, at 3 different campuses students interested in singing in the volunteer extracurricular choir simply turned in a form (paper or digital) to join choir. In anticipation of next year’s choir, I decided to try something new, and I am so glad I did!

I LOVE my volunteer choir. I love the early morning rehearsals, I love the after school rehearsals. I love the enthusiastic singers and the heistant singers who just want to go on a field trip. I think that providing elementary school children with the opportunity to join a voluntary choir is one of the very best things I can do with my time. I don’t love the feeling of unease that comes with being EXTREMELY outnumbered. I don’t love that even one bad attitude can hold a rehearsal hostage. I don’t love that sometimes the choral experience SEEMS to lack personal value for some students who are disappointed to find that in the midst of the fun, choir is actually a bit of work.

Dealing with Numbers

Our school enrollment is creeping up again. My first year at my current campus we were a couple of hundred students larger than our current enrollment. In the naivete of being new, during my first year at my school we decided to have a simple sign up sheet for choir. We ended up having about 135 singers and though we survived, the choir was large enough that we were seriously relieved that our school was significantly smaller the next year. For the next several years we have been slowly but surely increasing our enrollment again and our choir numbers which dropped from the 135 to the 70 the next year have crept up again so that this last year we had 100 singers. It was a great group of students and we had a great year, but I can see that this next group will be the largest 5th grade class we’ve had in a while, SOOOO we needed a way to encourage interest while keeping our participation numbers manageable.

Application / Audition Instead of Signup

We decided to give end of semester 4th graders the opportunity to apply to be in choir. We even invited existing 5th grade choir members to make videos sharing why participating in choir would be a great idea. The 4th graders responded VERY well to the videos, but many were worried that if they applied for choir then they might not make it. We explained that in our application / audition process, the students who did the work of application would get to be in choir. THEN we opened the application window.

The application consisted of 3 parts.

  1. Google form – sign up: Students had to fill out a google form with the typical questions about contact information. We were able to create a google sheet from the form and we will use the spreadsheet for the entire year next year.
  2. Recording/Video: Students had to record or video themselves singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In the information I sent home about choir I made it clear that this was not a “true” audition because we did not intend to base our choir membership on singing ability or the quality of a given recording. We explained that the recordings would be used to determine seating placement within the choir and to ensure that we chose the best music for the vocal abilities of the choir members.
  3. Choir Agreements: Once the Google Form and media recording were received, students were given the opportunity to sign and return a series of choir agreements regarding rehearsals, performances, field trips, uniforms and so on.

TIPS that will make the process easier

  • Use a LMS (Learning Management System). We have CANVAS, bot I suspect that something like Blackboard or Google Classroom or even Edmodo would work well to collect the things we needed to make our application process efficient.
  • Create how-to videos. Technical difficulties arise when students are given a technology task. Creating the how-to videos first will save you a ton of time and will help minimize the number of emails you have to write explaining the process.
  • Have options for students who choose not to use technology. A student should not be prohibited from applying just because they do not have access to a computer at home. My favorite work around is to have students call my school voice mail and leave me a message of them singing. I still get a digital file of their singing, and they got the task done with only minimal trouble.
  • Send out reminders to students and to parents.
  • Keep track of attempts. Because the google form was the first step and the easiest, I could follow up with students who I could tell intended to make a recording. If I did not receive their recording within a couple of days of the google form, I could reach out to them and see if they needed guidance. Most often the guidance they needed was for me to watch them complete the task on their personal device.

Reflections

I am SO VERY PLEASED with the outcome of this process. Here are some of the things I learned.

  1. The students who will be in my choir next year are VERY VERY proud of themselves because they EARNED the right to be in choir by working for the opportunity.
  2. I already know some things about my students that I would never have known without the process because some of them left me comments to go with the recordings. I know who wants a solo. I know that I have a couple of pianists in the group and a cellist. I know that I have students who sing beautifully and ones that will need lots of support.
  3. I am using the recordings to make decisions about riser placement and repertoire.
  4. My choir already has 78 members and I plan on opening up the application process for a very short time in the fall for the benefit of any new students who may join our school family in the fall.

This entire experience falls under the list of things that I was afraid to try in years past that I wish I had been doing all along. So if you are thinking about making your choir sign-up application process more rigorous, go for it, it is a wonderful thing to do!

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