American choral organizations have always had to put special effort into recruiting boys. There are so many extracurricular activities that vie for students' time, it is unlikely that those who teach choral music will be relieved anytime soon of the responsibility of cajoling boys into participating in choir. Many believe that men are more successful at recruiting boys than women, but certainly there are many fine programs directed by women throughout the United States that have plenty of boys enrolled.
In certain parts of the country, some still consider singing to be effeminate, an image that directors must strive to destroy. Often, boys are not aware of the many very masculine role models who are singers. Wise directors will ensure that the boys in their school know about them.
Boys who attempt singing for the first time in mid-level grades may become discouraged because of the frustrations their changing-voice problems cause them. These frustrations do not have to occur, particularly if the directors understand the changing voice and select choral literature that accommodates it. Look at the clever cartoon presentation entitled I'm a Boy, How High Should I Sing? Invite the boys in your choir and those considering joining choir to view it. It will help them understand their changing-voice uncertainties.
Further, empirical knowledge verifies that boys in mid-level grades are more inclined to consider singing if the choir in which they enroll is all-male. There are some very fine mixed choirs in mid-level schools, but many of them are a result of strong, well-established programs. Teachers beginning new programs will have more success recruiting boys if they place them in a group together instead of mixing them with the girls.
Adolescent boys are inclined to enjoy choral music more if directors treat them as if they were men (even though directors know that on numerous occasions they will revert to their childhood behavior). Directors should be careful to choose language that promotes masculinity. Talk about masculine topics and be positive and authoritative when relating to them. Choose literature that relates to the boys' masculinity. Certainly, men should learn to relate to the finer, more artistic, and more aesthetic aspects of life, but possibly this should be a growth process that begins with young singers once they feel confident in their masculinity and once they have committed themselves to the choral program.
One may relate the ability to recruit fine singers directly to the image the directors and their choirs convey to the general student body. It does very little good to beseech individuals to sign up for choir if they do not have an earnest desire to do so. Directors must create that compelling yearning within the students by helping them to perceive their choral involvement as "the thing to do," just as a campaign manager directs the public to perceive a candidate as the one who is right for the job. It is strictly a public relations challenge. That compelling yearning to be involved in choir must be greater than the yearning to be involved in industrial arts, visual arts, athletics, or any of the many options (elective courses and activities) open to the students.
Peer pressure to conform and the need to be part of the "in crowd" are two of the strongest drives adolescents experience. With several options available to students, directors must ensconce choral singing as the best class to elect. Once choir has that image, the number of students who will enroll will take care of itself. Usually, the challenge extends beyond the perimeters of the secondary campus. If students do not participate in choral music, it may be due to parents' negative attitudes or students may not participate because singing was unacceptable in the elementary grades and that attitude carries over into mid-level and secondary school. As a result, directors must begin to create that compelling yearning to be in choir before the students reach mid-level or secondary school. Thus, for future security, image building begins at their place of current employment for immediate enrollment, and in the home and in the elementary schools for future enrollment.
How, then, do directors create in students that compelling yearning to be in choir? Create a choral situation and environment that will be appealing to adolescent singers. This can be done by developing the best performing organization possible with the singers now enrolled. Adolescents do not want to be in a choir that is not good.
Sing some literature (but certainly not all literature) that appeals to adolescents who do not understand choral music. Choosing this type literature should not have to continue after the numbers begin to grow. At that point, the emphasis of the director shifts to choosing literature with strong educational, artistic, and aesthetic value in order to give the students the ability to be critical music makers their entire lives.
Place pertinent information about choir and choir members on bulletin boards throughout the school (including those in the choir room). Directors must design this information to capture the attention of the adolescent. Use adolescent means of expression by choosing words that are in vogue. Include attractive artwork in the style of popular cartoon strips and characters.
Give choral music awards to the singers at the annual awards assembly. The choral program should have equal status with athletics and other elective subjects. Make announcements (at least every week or two) during the morning announcement period. This will keep the choral program in the minds of the students. Write the announcements in the current language of the adolescent. Be innovative and clever.
If all of society, and the teaching profession in particular, viewed the discipline of choral music as a required academic study, it would not be necessary to recruit students or so zealously to apprise the school faculty, the administration, the school board and the general public of the activities of the choral organizations. Since such is not the circumstance in America now, music educators need to be both super salespersons and public relations executives to survive. If the truth were known, one might find that there are very few professional choral teachers who have never secretly (and sometimes openly) longed for a time when all they had to do was to teach music. Concerns about the security of their position based on the number of students they have enrolled, whether the school board will allocate money for a choral music instructor next year, the parents' critical response to their last program, the choirs' ratings at the last contest, and so forth enervate them and sap them of energy, strength, and stamina that they should apply to the business of teaching. Because of the current conditions and the image of music education in the American mind, educators must train themselves in the crafts of sales, public relations, and publicity. Those who fail to attend to those issues soon find themselves in a different profession.
Directors should never give up in their quest to help everyone understand that the study of choral music is an academic discipline. It is not solely an entertainment entity. It is not an extracurricular activity. It is not a time for a break so that the students can get away from the "real" disciplines. It is just as important to life as math and science. Without it and the other arts, one would not be a totally fulfilled individual. Until society understands that, we must be super salespersons and public relations experts. We must help the public to see the importance of music and to understand why our teaching responsibilities are essential to fulfilled living.
Prepared and submitted by:
Don L. Collins, Ph.D.
The Cambiata Institute of America
for Early Adolescent Vocal Music