Briggs Chaney Middle School, Silver Spring, MD
MD/DC ACDA Middle School/Junior High R & R Chair
Everyone knows that boys and girls grow at different rates and there is no time where this is more obvious than during adolescence, specifically in grades 6-9. Of course, this drastically affects the vocal growth of our students. Who hasn’t experienced the dreaded ‘droner’ or the unsure singer who insists she is an alto? So, what do you, their choral director, do about it?
There is a lot of research exploring the vocal changes in adolescent boys and girls, including the works of John M. Cooksey (Working With Adolescent Voices), Lynn Gackle (Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart: Nurturning the Adolescent Female Voice), Patrick Freer (Success for Adolescent Singers, DVDs) and Don Collins (www.CambiataPress.com). These resources can help you identify the various stages of your students’ vocal changes as well as give you strategies for helping them reach vocal success. Additionally, these resources recommend separate repertoire for boys and girls during this critical time. Of course, most middle school choral programs are not scheduled in a way that allows for separate boys and girls rehearsals. However, regardless of your choruses’ schedule, I highly recommend programming at least one girls only and one boys only piece per year.
Now, comes the big question: what do you sing with them? What repertoire is accessible for their voices and will help them create beautiful music? Here are few recommended pieces for separate boys and girls middle school ensembles.
BOYS’ Only Repertoire:
Heroes and Vagabonds (Solo Songs for the Male Changing Voice) – Mark Patterson
This collection of songs can be sung solo or in unison. Each piece is arranged for a different range of the male adolescent voice change from a limited ‘alto’ range to beginning ‘basses.’ The well written vocal lines are paired with supportive, yet engaging accompaniments. You can have all of your 6th grade boys sing unison or if your ensemble is mixed, sing one of the pieces at the octave.
Alexanders Ragtime Band – Berlin, arr. A. Gaus
Two part Variable
This arrangement of Irving Berlin’s famous piece can be sung by any combination of boys; simply put them on the part that works best for their voice (again, use octave displacement if necessary). The students really enjoy getting to know this syncopated standard.
South African Suite – arr. Henry Leck
This rather famous set of pieces, including “Tshotsholoza,” “Siyahamba,” and “Gabi Gabi” is arranged within the ranges of middle school vocalists with the bass line within an octacve of middle C. You can have the boys sing whichever part works best for their voice, regardless of the octave (octave displacement would not be inappropriate performance practice for South African choral music).
Arirang – arr. Lon Beery
Don’t shy away from the idea of singing three parts with middle school boys. This Korean folk song arrangement is specifically written to accommodate the limited ranges of boys whose voices are dropping. The tenor 1, tenor 2 and baritone parts utilize stepwise movements to form beautiful, rich harmonies.
At The Foot of Yonder Mountain – arr. Earlene Rentz
This is a lovely arrangement of a folk song where the melody alternates between the tenor and baritone voice parts. Each of the three verses has a slightly different countermelody adding interest and difficulty to the arrangement. Additionally, there are optional divisi at cadences that can broaden the sound of even a small ensemble.
GIRLS’ Only Repertoire:
Three Rhymes – Set 1 – Paul Bouman
This set of unison pieces will challenge even your eighth grade girls with the more intricate melodies, rhythms, and unique texts. “The Land of Counterpane” tells a delightful story with the lyrical movement of triple meter and animated accompaniment.
Laudamus Te – Vivaldi, arr. Doreen Rao
Introduce your singers to this famous duet from Vivaldi’s “Gloria” with this accessible arrangement. Though the two parts are relatively the same in range, the second part is great for the girls whose voices have started to change and have a richer tone in the lower register and an airier sound in their high register.
Oro Mo Bhaidin – arr. Ruth Boshkoff
Though this piece is listed as SA, it is truly a three-part arrangement due to an optional, but highly recommended descant. Starting as unison in the first verse, but quickly growing to two and then three parts, the beauty of this Gaelic/English piece is highlighted with a solo oboe. The final refrain is a cappella adding one extra level of challenge and beauty.
Think on Me – arr. James Mulholland
Mulholland’s arrangement of Mary Queen of Scotts’ poem and melody is hauntingly beautiful. Your adolescent girls will immediately connect with the text and want to sing the lyrical lines. Again, starting in unison, the piece moves to multiple parts with descending harmonic lines on the second verse. The moving lines create beautiful, close harmonies that are resolved through stepwise motion, which is great for changing voices.
Tenzi – Lee Kesselman
This mixed meter, a cappella Shona “Kyrie” is fabulous for adolescent girls. The four parts offer many options for placing your girls on a part where they can be successful. You can even switch them from one part to another while highlighting a small ensemble (rather than a soloist) in the B section.