Start the Song: Homeschool Choirs

June 24–28, 2013   |   Vol. 116, Programs 21–25

Can your child benefit from joining a choir, even if he doesn’t seem to have any outstanding musical ability? On this week’s edition of Home School Heartbeat, join Mike Farris, Dr. Steven McCollum of Patrick Henry College, and two home school moms who started their own choirs to discover how vocal training could be a foundational part of your child’s education!

“Singing in a choir can endow each participant with a healthy vocal technique . . . which is not only useful in choir, but whatever activity or vocation they choose, be it speech and debate, drama, or even as a lawyer.”—Dr. Steven McCollum

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Is do-re-me a foundational part of your homeschool year? Put the sound of music in your children’s life with choral education! Today’s guest on Home School Heartbeat joins host Mike Farris to explain the benefits of singing in a choir.

Mike Farris: My guest today is Dr. Steven McCollum, an associate professor and the director of music at Patrick Henry College. Steve has a doctorate in choral conducting and is the executive director of the Patrick Henry College Youth Music Academy, which serves local homeschooling families. Steve, welcome to the program!

Steven McCollum: Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mike: Steve, choral music is obviously one of your passions. Would you explain to our listeners some of the unique benefits of choral training? What will homeschoolers learn by singing in a choir that they wouldn’t learn through taking violin or perhaps piano lessons?

Steven: Oh, it’s a good question. In a general sense, participating in a choir provides young musicians with a set of skills which only come from ensemble performance. Those are, firstly, the ability to realize music rhythmically and melodically, in real time, perfectly synchronized with the conductor and with other musicians. We don’t always realize that this is a skill which must be nurtured. Secondly, singing in a choir can endow each participant with a healthy vocal technique, which can provide them with a strong, commanding, and resonate voice, as well as a lifetime of vocal health, which is not only useful in choir, but whatever activity or vocation they choose, be it speech and debate, drama, or even as a lawyer presenting a case in a courtroom.

Mike: Oh, those are great benefits for students, Steve. I really appreciate your sharing. We’ll talk more about choral music on the next program. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Steve, last time you explained some of the benefits of participating in a choir. Today, I want to ask a couple of specific questions that homeschooling parents might have. When should parents start really thinking about choral education? And is there an age that students will begin to get the most out of choir?

Steven McCollum: I would say that, as long as the content and the setting is age appropriate, start your children as early as possible, depending upon the child’s developmental readiness, of course. The earlier a youngster starts, the earlier he or she begins to develop a sense of poise which, will naturally displace the common fear of speaking or performing in public.

Mike: Would you say that choir is for just about everybody? What about kids who don’t have any apparent musical talent? I mean, what if they can’t carry a tune in a bucket?

Steven: Well, my advice to parents is always to have your children try everything. Give youngsters as many opportunities as possible to discover their talents and strengths. Making these discoveries early in life provides more time to develop a youngster’s strengths, and minimizes the areas where they are less gifted. This allows parents to guide the student’s development and avoid potential frustration. Including music education in this process can offer a refining and rewarding pursuit in a young person’s development.

Mike: Steve, thanks so much for joining me this week to talk about choral music—it’s been a real pleasure to have you. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Today my guest is Mitzi Coffman. Mitzi is a homeschooling mom and one of the administrators for Deo Gratias, which is a choir in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mitzi, thanks so much for joining me on the program!

Mitzi Coffman: Thanks! I appreciate the opportunity.

Mike: Mitzi, there may be some homeschool groups who love to start a choir, but they really don’t have anybody talented or trained to do it. What should they do?

Mitzi: Well, our choir founders grew up in families with rich musical heritage. They sang together with parts and harmony. They desired to give their children a musical education with depth, and so they pointed them towards a professional director. But it would be important that our director have an active faith in God. We found it really beneficial to have a professional musician who can train voices technically, introduce varied music styles, composers, multiple languages, and historical information just to begin with. But the director, not having administrative duties, can be entirely focused on music selection, teaching the students, and developing contacts for the choir in the community that they’re familiar with, and we aren’t.

Mike: Mitzi, thanks so much for giving us great ideas on how to get started. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Kati Rosten, who’s the director of XL Choirs of Northern California, is my guest today on the program. She provides choral training in 2 counties, with 4 different choirs. Kati, welcome to the program!

Kati Rosten: Hello, Mike!

Mike: Kati, how have you seen participation in XL Choir impact student’s lives over the years?

Kati: The students receive formal choral training and spiritual training within that context. And the reports I hear from former students are endless, and they amaze and bless me as I hear how they impact their communities. Many have majored in music in college, and even if they’re not a music major, they’ll still sing in the college choir. They’re worship leaders; they’re choir directors in their churches; they sing in community choirs; one is a published composer of choral music; one has soloed with a Bach choir in Germany; one is a sought after soloist in our local productions (it brings tears to my eyes when I hear her sing and remember her as a shy child who could barely find her voice). That’s just the music side of it. Their training develops so many other areas of their lives, also.

Mike: Kati, that’s terrific! Thanks for joining me today. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: My guests this week are homeschooling moms Mitzi Coffman and Kati Rosten, and they join me again today to consider a question that can shape the feel and the purpose of a homeschool choir—whether or not to audition students. Mitzi, would you explain why Deo Gratias choirs have not chosen to audition students who wish to sing?

Mitzi Coffman: Well, primarily our desire has been to build up students’ God-given potential. We believe that, with focus and diligence, all are able to develop and improve their singing voice, and we think it’d be exciting if some of our students developed into opera singers. But we’d most like them to become comfortable and confident with their singing, and that they can find joy and pleasure singing throughout life. And we also especially hope that they’d be better prepared to sing and worship God.

Mike: Thanks, Mitzi.

Mitzi Coffman: Sure!

Mike: Kati, your XL Choir does audition students. Tell us why you do that.

Kati Rosten: Well, my unison choir for ages 5-8 does not have auditions. But auditions for all other choirs are merely to determine if the student can hear and match pitches, but also to place them in the appropriate section because they’re being trained to harmonize in three and four parts. I’d say, out of all the hundreds of students over the years, I’ve only had a handful who never developed the ability to sing on pitch.

Mike: Kati, thanks so much for sharing your experience on that subject. It’s been a pleasure to have you both on the program with me this week. I’m Mike Farris.

Dr. Steven McCollum

Dr. McCollum has been active as a music educator for the past 20 years, teaching students of all ages. He received a BM Ed from Biola University and his MM and DMA in choral conducting at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. McCollum is the director of music at Patrick Henry College, where he oversees the curriculum development of the college’s music program and adjunct music faculty, directs the PHC Chorale, teaches, and provides leadership for the Patrick Henry College Youth Music Academy, a consortium of ensembles which serve as a teaching lab for the college’s music track majors.

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