Having your singers listen to and evaluate choral performances can serve a lot of different purposes, including:
-Activity that a substitute teacher can do
-Cover some different National Standards
-Build the choral vocabulary and listening skills of your singers
We sometimes forget that many of our young singers don’t have the experience of listening to and evaluating choral performances. Choral music is not typically something they are listening to on a regular basis (if yours are, then run with it!).
Not only do we need to give them more experience in listening to choral music, we also need to teach them what they should be listening for. This gets into the whole discussion of what makes a high quality choral performance. By discussing what the characteristics of a high quality performance are, and then sharing choral performances that are examples of these characteristics, our singers gain a better understanding of what they should be working towards.
I use this Choir Evaluation assignment to get my singers to evaluate and discuss specific concepts. It’s helpful to define and discuss these concepts ahead of time, so that students know what to listen for and what questions they should be asking. You can certainly choose different concepts, if there are different aspects of choral performances that you are trying to emphasize, but here is what I ask my singers to discuss:
Tone: Have them describe the tone color. There are lots of different ways they can do this: is the tone warm/shrill? Dark/bright? Heavy/Light? Tense/relaxed? Breathy/muscular? Is the tone resonant? All of these descriptors can lead you into some terrific conversations about vocal technique with your singers.
Balance and Blend: Are there sections of the choir that stick out or overpower the other sections? Is there an even blend amongst the sections, or do you hear individual voices sticking out? If there are sections of your choir that are not singing out, or individual voices that are sticking out (or, are not contributing enough), these are important conversations to have. Singers are often not familiar with these concepts, and do not understand just how important they are to a quality choral performance.
Diction: Can the words be clearly understood? Are the consonants enunciated crisply and clearly? Describe the vowel sounds–are you hearing a wide variety of vowel sounds, or are they uniform across the choir (hint, hint…)? Do the vowels have more of a vertical or a horizontal sound to them? How are dipthongs treated? And on, and on…..some many great teaching moments!
Phrasing and Dynamics: Have your singers discuss what they notice about the phrasing. Is there a forward momentum to the phrase? Can you hear where the high point of the phrase happens? Is there a wide variety of dynamics utilized in the performance? Can you hear crescendos/decrescendos in particular phrases? Are the dynamics used effectively to tell the story of the piece?
While there are certainly other things that I could be asking my singers to listen for, I limit it to these four characteristics, especially if they are relatively inexperienced singers. I focus on these characteristics because of the huge impact they can have on the quality of a choral performance. Your singers can only listen for so many things, and you also have to consider how much time you want to allow for the activity. Keeping the evaluation to these four main characteristics helps to keep things moving.
For the actual lesson, I have a large television in my room, to which I connect using an Apple TV. While I’m not really asking my singers about any of the visual aspects of these performances, you can bet that they are noticing, which can be a real help if performance practice and etiquette is an issue with your singers. If you don’t have a way for your singers to view the videos, you can simply play the audio for them, connecting to speakers through Bluetooth or an aux cord.
The great thing is that when you do the activity a second time, you can simply change out the video links to share new performances. And you can always change out the characteristics if there’s something else that you are trying to emphasize with your singers.
If you’d like to grab a FREE copy of the PDF that I use here’s a link. Take it and tweak it however you see fit, hope you find it helpful!
Have a great weekend!
P.S. If you’d like to dive deeper on different topics related to directing a choir, our membership group, the Choir Director Corner TRIBE, is exactly what you are looking for! The TRIBE includes short, easily consumed online masterclasses that apply directly to your everyday teaching. Because, hey, we’re busy people!
The most recent masterclass, “How to Assess Your Choir Members Individually, Authentically and Efficiently”, includes 13 different rubrics/handouts that you can use to incorporate assessment into your rehearsals. No need to reinvent the wheel! To find out more about the TRIBE, just click HERE.