Empowering students to lead, embrace new ideas with a positive attitude and actively support one another are the foundations of Benjamin Rogers’ vocal program at Liberty Middle School. “We recently added a ‘Choir Shout-Out Wall’ in our classroom where students can give their peers compliments, and the focus on building community helps rehearsal attitude and retention,” he explains.
Rogers established a Choir Leadership Council for each choir, which has four main roles to help classes run successfully: 1) Directors Assistants typically lead the class through kinesthetic and vocal warmups and literacy activities; they also run choral rehearsals when Rogers is absent. 2) Secretaries take attendance and oversee any organizational aspects of the choral classroom, from numbering scores to collecting them after a concert cycle. 3) Marketing Chairs are the go-tos for fundraising efforts and the group’s social media. 4) Wardens encourage singers to meet classroom expectations and handle any emergencies.
But the biggest change Rogers implemented was creating and getting approval for four voice-based choir tracks — beginning, intermediate and advanced treble, and advanced bass — instead of grade-level choirs. During the prior academic year, the school piloted an advanced mixed choir with a beginning treble and beginning bass choir. “With a strong recruitment initiative, our numbers grew in size to accommodate the four voice-based choirs,” Rogers explains. “Our school has a fantastic counseling team that supports our music program wholeheartedly and forms our master schedule around our ensembles.”
This shift from grade-level to voice-based choirs was done not only at Liberty, but throughout the district, which “means that our community is empowering our arts programs and paving the way for higher achieving music ensembles,” Rogers says. “We are able to differentiate our instruction for the different levels and types of voices in each choir in a more efficient way than when all students are clumped together as part of a grade-level choir.”
With such innovative changes, it’s no wonder that choir numbers have more than doubled — even in the midst of a pandemic. Rogers has strong, year-round recruitment. “Our choirs record and send ‘virtual letters’ to our feeder schools with our choirs singing, we’ve done choral pen pals, we share our concerts with our feeder schools, and I join our counseling team on visits to the elementary schools,” he says. “After initial registration, I call every incoming 6th-grade family to encourage them to join one of our music programs at Liberty. We also recruit from our current student population with bring-a-friend-to-choir events, and I recruit from teaching a 6th-grade general music class to students who aren’t in a music ensemble.”