Choral Studies: High School, Part 1

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Thank goodness for my high school choral teacher and private voice teacher. Without their advice and support, I would have ended up as a train conductor rather than a choral conductor. I wish I would have spoken with them much sooner than senior year. The more prepared you are, the better chance you’ll have of getting accepted into a top program and receiving a scholarship. I was a tenor with a pleasant voice, piano skills, and a heartbeat, so I was set. 

Following are tips to help you plan for a successful career as a choral music teacher:

  • Speak to your choral teacher as soon as possible. Your teacher will offer you valuable guidance.
  • Your parents will love me for this one. Work to achieve excellent grades in all your classes, not just your music classes. Even if you’re super talented with an amazing voice, you could receive a rejection letter from the school of your choice if your GPA is low. Those with an excellent GPA could qualify for additional scholarships.
  • Study voice privately. Taking a few lessons before the audition is helpful, but studying your primary instrument for at least a couple of years in high school is a worthwhile investment. Ice skaters don’t learn a triple axel in a few coachings. It takes years of practice. 
  • Enroll in AP Theory. If your school does not offer the class, sign up for music theory and sight-singing classes at a local community college. You will be asked to sight-read and demonstrate your rhythm skills at the college audition. Students who display an exceptional knowledge of beginning theory and sight-singing skills are often placed in more advanced courses. Hopefully, your choral teacher is also teaching literacy as part of the program. There are free online options such as MusicTheory.net and Sight Reading Factory to help you sharpen your skills too.
  • Study piano. Music Education with a voice emphasis was my degree program at the undergraduate level, but I had a minor in piano. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keyboard skills to a future music educator. You might also test out of keyboard classes. If you can accompany your future choirs and also play for others, all the better. 
  • Be a sponge! Attend concerts (not just choral) to learn more about repertoire and listen to great music on Spotify, YouTube, etc. 
  • Audition for all-state and honor choirs. You’ll be able to sing under the direction of professional conductors. You might enjoy working with someone so much that you audition for the music program where they teach.
  • Ask your teacher or the music director at your place of worship for opportunities to lead section rehearsals, warm up the choir, or conduct a piece at the concert. Much of your life as an educator will entail leading rehearsals and conducting, so get your feet wet now. Any experience during your high school years will put you far ahead of other music students who do not learn about rehearsals or conducting until college. Unfortunately, this is the majority. 
  • Don’t be shy about asking your teacher for help with your conducting or feedback from students about rehearsals you lead. Any information you receive will help you become better. If you are closed to feedback and growth, choose another career path. 
  • Study a foreign language. Choral music is texted music, so developing a love of languages will benefit you and those with whom you work.
  • Take part in summer choral camps. You’ll learn a lot and be able to connect with those who are as passionate about music as you. Most of the camps also offer classes in voice, theory, sight-singing, and conducting as part of their curriculum. 

There are no shortcuts to becoming a top-notch music educator and performer, so it will be an enormous investment on your part. Your high school choral teacher is an inspiring educator who has made a significant impact on your life as a student. As a future educator, you will share your love of music with others and inspire countless students, just as your teacher inspired you.  

I hope you find these recommendations helpful. I invite my colleagues to add to this list and welcome questions and observations from students too. My next post for high school students will focus on selecting and auditioning for college programs. 

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