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A Real-Life Middle School Choir Music Sight Reading Session Extravaganza!

We always see videos of the final products, the polished performances, and the cleaned up "pretty" version of things. But, what about the beginning? How does it all start?

Look no further, because I'm laying it all here on the line. Just for you.

We've been reading through our repertoire for the last week, and I just find the process so fascinating. I start in the morning with sixth graders, training wheels securely attached. By the end of the day, it's time to stop holding on, and just let these kiddos go on their own. As a protective parent...I mean,'s hard to just step back and let them show me what they can do sometimes. But when I do, it reminds me just how capable and intelligent they really are.

Allow me to set the scene for you. It's a middle school chorus room. The last class of the day. What do we have here? Oh? Music the students have only listened to one time? Great! Here we go!

Video featuring me wildly gesticulating my arms on the left hand side of the video: included for free when you sign up! By the way, the piece in the video is Sisi Ni Moja, by Jacob Narverud.

Order of Events

Anyone care to take a tally of how many times I say "measure 22" at the beginning of this video? Guys, you gotta make sure everyone knows where to start. Have you told them 10 times? Don't worry...someone is still confused. 

My 8th graders are pretty capable sight readers, so I wasn't worried too much about them reading the pitch in this piece. But, there's a fair amount of syncopation, and that always looks more difficult than it actually is. So, I start out by having the students echo chant the rhythm with me before we attempt to sing. Echo chanting is also a great way to make initial corrections to space and placement.

Someone needs a band-aid, which is why you hear me ask "are you dying?"

After that brief interlude, we start reading just one part at a time. I often start a reading session by having everyone read every part. Why? Confidence in numbers. Also, it really helps everyone understand their relationship with all of the other parts in the music.

I sing with them more at the beginning, but try to back myself off as we continue.

I take a second to address the ending of the phrase "we are one." I noticed they were holding it longer than the music indicated, and the ending consonant wasn't lined up. I prefer to go ahead and start addressing some of these little issues from the beginning as they crop up. It's less work to correct now than a month down the road.

After we go over the main theme, we've reached our official goal for the day. That's when I ask them if they want to attempt going through the whole piece. (Duh, of course they do!)

Attempt said run-through.

Celebrate that we didn't die!

What I Expect From The Kids During This Process

  1. They will not sing perfectly! We embrace this, and sing out so that we can hear the mistakes, and know what to fix later.

  2. They're still going to be middle school kids, which means they're probably going to be chatty at times. I can handle that, as long as they know it's time to focus back in when I need their attention. (You can see me use attention grabbers a few times in the video). The main factor that makes this work is respect. We don't talk while others are talking or asking questions. This includes other students.

  3. Random things are going to happen in the room, because they aren't robots.

  4. I don't expect them to act any differently when I'm filming them, and I don't act differently either. What you see is what you get, except when they wave at the camera and say hi!

The video cuts off right before they finish singing through the piece. I was a little sad about that, because it was honestly my favorite part. After they cut off on the final page, everyone cheered!

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