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It is that time of year when many elementary general music educators are preparing for their annual holiday concert. I began preparing my students for their December concert the day after Halloween. I know that I am lucky as many elementary music educators that I meet must begin preparing their concerts well before Halloween.
What Is An Elementary General Music Holiday Concert?
Where I teach, an elementary general music holiday concert is when all of the students in the school will participate in performing in the concert. This differs from a chorus performing in a concert. A chorus is usually an elective and/or a class period that focuses on choral music and vocal techniques. A general music class can focus on a variety of items from creating, performing, responding, and connecting to music. It can be taught through various approaches and include singing songs, moving to music, performing on instruments, learning to read music and rhythm patterns, learning to utilize various vocal techniques, dancing, and so much more.
Where To Find Repertoire?
Finding repertoire that can be taught during general music class time can be challenging. There are numerous factors from choosing repertoire to many of the following items:
- How often you see the students
- The length of your classes
- Having to account that your prep time could be diminished due to weather, field trip, etc.
- The length of the concert
- How many students will show up for the concert (do they have to come back to school because it is in the evening?)
- The behavior of the class (do they like to perform?)
- Transitions between songs (will classes be coming on and off risers between songs?)
- Support (will faculty and staff support your concert by helping you set up the concert items and/or watching your students during the concert?)
- Does your audience favor “crowd-pleasing” songs over fine repertoire? Or a balance of both?
- What is expected of your concert? Balance of selections-secular, sacred, seasonal?
- What repertoire has worked well? What has not?
These are just some of the items to consider before choosing your repertoire. Once you have some of this settled, you can begin to choose your repertoire. Some popular places to find song selections for an elementary general music concert are:
- Facebook music education groups
- The music series you might be using in class
- The approach or methodology you might be using to teach general music
- JW Pepper online catalogs, especially searching repertoire that has been chosen by the editor or is a best seller
- Music K8
- Sheet Music Plus
- Youtube to find performances of songs that you are considering
- Music educators podcasts, blogs, websites, and more
How To Teach An Elementary General Music Concert?
Many times, elementary music educators feel conflicted because they assume that their curriculum has to come to a halt so that they can teach the concert music. This can stem from repertoire that is chosen to please the audience and therefore, does not always contain a lot of substance. In addition, sometimes the concert music is disconnected from the approach or methodology you might be using to teach music.
These are very realistic feelings. However, they are ways to take the concert repertoire you have chosen and connect it to the methodology that you are teaching.
One of my favorite items about Dr. Feierabend’s First Steps program is the eight-step workout. This researched-based curriculum’s workout is very logical in its process and it works well in a PreK-2nd grade general music classroom. To use this workout with teaching concert repertoire can also work well. Some examples include:
- During step two, song fragments/echo songs/call and response songs, use the choruses or refrains in your song selections for step two.
- During step five, songtales (which I tend to move to step eight), take one of your songs that tells a story and utilize it as a songtale. For the first few lessons, sing this to them at the end of class. During the next class, show pictures that enhance the songtale (I create them). Then, begin teaching it. However, by four classes, they will have the ability to begin singing many parts of the songtale on their own.
- During steps six through eight, which focus on movement, create “Move It!” type activities so the students can hear and learn the songs through movement.
- In addition, create a Move It! activity for the performance.
- If you are using Conversational Solfege and the students are ready for decoding, have them decode melodic and rhythmic phrases in the song selections.
- Use Curwen hand signals to teach certain melodic phrases that you have been reinforcing in class. For example, if you have been teaching many songs with the minor third interval, then find phrases that support this interval and have the students perform the hand signals every time they hear it in the song.
- Prepare/Present/Practice: Find melodic and rhythmic concepts in the concert song selections and teach them as if they were the folk songs you were using to prepare/present/practice the concepts.
- Create a movement game to one of the concert song selections to help them learn, sing, and memorize the song.
- Find phrases that you can utilize the rhythms you have been teaching, within those phrases.
- In the observation experience, the students can view a video of another school performing the concert song selection.
- In the imitation experience, choose a rhythmic or melodic phrase and have them imitate what you play or sing. Use body percussion to enhance the imitation experience.
- When involved in the experimentation/exploration phase, take a part a chorus of a song, phrase by phrase. Assign a phrase to a small group of students and have them create a body percussion part to the rhythm of the phrase or to emphasize the words in the phrase.
- When the students have ownership over a certain phrase or pattern in a song, have them use pitched classroom instruments like boomwhackers or a pentatonic scale on orff instrumenst to improvise a new melody to the rhythm of the phrase or pattern.
- If the song selection is a round or canon, have the students create movements for the song or for a portion of the song. Then, divide the class into small groups and they sing and perform the movements in unison. After that, sing and perform the movements as a round.
- Create an orffestration for your older elementary students to accompany your younger elementary singers.
- Finally, introduce literacy by using a melodic or rhythmic phrase and having the students begin learning how to read and perform the phrase.
Here is what my students in K-4 general music classes will be performing on the concert this year. Some songs will have K-1 only singing the refrains or choruses.
- Holiday Lights by Sally Albrecht (K-3) – Great opener. Definitely add the flashlight choreography.
- Angels We Have Heard on High (K-1) – I created an orffestration using Orff instruments and tone chimes for my 3rd graders to accompany my singers in K and 1.
- Siyahamba arranged by Donald Moore (K-3) – An all time favorite for the students and audience.
- Snow by Teresa Jennings found in Music K8 28/2 (K-3). My students are loving this song, especially the choreography, which is helping them learn and memorize the song.
- Deck the Halls Disco Style with Boomwhackers (2-3) – To use the song in this way can be a bit comical and this might not be what you want for your concert. However, the crowd-pleasing aspect of the piece, along with the students learning to perform and read the melody, can give this piece a great curricular connection.
- Menorah Glow (K-3) – A beautiful ballade to encourage your singers to sing in their head voices.
- Everlasting Fruitcake (K-3) – When checking music ed boards about a fun song to sing, this Music K8 song came up a lot. This song, in one way, is a donut or fluff. However, in another way, it will be a fun one for your students and it falls under the category of a song that tells a story. This is a contemporary songtale and can be used to show the students that composers are still writing songs that tell stories. In addition, if you have a population that loves country music, this song will be a crowd pleaser on the concert.
- Ubuntu by Mark Hayes (K-7). This is a wonderfully choral piece with an amazing message. Our head of school started the school year with this message and my colleague came up with the idea to use Ubuntu as our theme. Brilliant and wonderful.
- Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow by Mark Patterson (4-5). Great spiritual, especially if you can sing sacred songs in the concert.
- Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah arr. Emerson (4-7). Roger Emerson does a fabulous job with the arrangement of this piece. My students love singing this piece. Plus, add the clarinet part and a few students to dance the hora.
- Et in Terra Pax by Greg Gilpin (4-5). This arrangement is absolutely beautiful and gorgeous. The two-part is a great one for students in grades 4 and 5 to perform successfully. It also helps my fourth graders to sing in their head voices. In addition, has a great cross-curricular connection as my fourth graders take a course in Latin to help them with their vocabulary.
- Run, Run Rudolph by Johnny Marks & Marvin Brody/arr. Kirby Shaw (4-5). This piece is a nice arrangement of a fun and familiar song. It also comes with parts that your older elementary/middle school saxophonist and guitarist could accompany the song.
- I Do Believe in Christmas from “The Search for Santa Paws” by Cristi Cary Miller (4-7). If your students are into Annie, they will like this song as it has a similar premise. Plus, you cannot go wrong with an arrangement from Cristi Cary Miller.
- Christmas is a Feeling by Natalie Sleeth. It has been a 30+ year tradition to end our concert with this song. Alumni from our school will join the students in singing this song. It is a beautiful tradition.
I hope that this helps you plan and teach concert repertoire in your elementary general music class.
Feierabend, J., Dr. (2006). First Steps in Music for Preschool and Beyond. Chicago, IL: GIA Publications.
Jeter, D. (2014, July 09). Teaching Methods: The Kodaly Method. Retrieved November 11, 2018, from http://musicstaff.com/teaching-methods-kodaly-method/
Long, Amanda, “Involve Me: Using the Orff Approach within the Elementary Classroom” (2013). 2013 Awards for Excellence in Student Research & Creative Activity – Documents. 4. http://thekeep.eiu.edu/lib_awards_2013_docs/4
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com