Putting the HONOR in Your Students’ Honor Choir Experience

Michael Culloton

Michael Culloton

One of my favorite activities that I enjoy as a choral music educator is traveling and serving as a guest conductor for district, region, and state honor choirs. I greatly value the opportunity to work with fine young men and women as they gather to celebrate their love of singing, and I work hard to give them a musically rewarding experience.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a guest conductor at many, many such festivals, but a recent district honor choir stood out to me as one of the single most enjoyable that I’ve yet experienced, and I want to share with you some of the reasons that this was so successful. And for full disclosure, I will tell you that this was a small-town district filled with great teachers and students.

  1. The invitation to serve as the guest conductor was followed up with regular communication, even simple emails reaffirming the schedule for the day, hotel I was staying at, and other similar details. Spend the time to be in touch with your clinicians, and don’t hesitate because you think you are being a pest.
  2. I enjoyed a very honest conversation about the musical and educational goals for the day, and the host teacher and I worked very closely to make sure that we programmed the correct level of music. One thing to be careful about is over-programming, and I knew that we were on the right path in this regard because of the attention to past successes and struggles related to music selections. In the end, we sang a program of five pieces that was eclectic, educational, and very enjoyable. Mission accomplished!
  3. Most of the students were obviously prepared appropriately by their teachers. This is the key and where you all come in! Work together with the other teachers to prepare learning tracks, YouTube playlists, and other such tools that will allow your students to work on their notes and rhythms ahead of time so they can be leaders among leaders. The honor choir experience should not be defined as an opportunity to watch a guest conductor teach the basic notes and rhythms (though we’ll do it if we need to!), but instead should be viewed as a deep journey into the music with singers that are united by their higher ability levels and desire to sing. In the case of this honor choir, I knew in the first five minutes that we were going to have a very rewarding day musically speaking because of their advanced prep work on the first tune we sang.
  4. And about those students… have them dress nicely and show up with one or two pencils. The host teacher should be prepared with extra pencils as well. The reason that pencils are so important is that there is only so much singing the students can do in one day, and there are many reminders that I like to have them put in their music that can be incorporated without having them use the voice more.
  5. This was one of my favorite experiences because most of the teachers stayed in the rehearsal room the whole time. This helped to reinforce behavioral expectations, and gave me five or six more sets of ears throughout the day. These teachers also served as section leaders for a 45-minute clean-up sectional, and sang in the rehearsals next to the students from time to time. If you are the host teacher, work with the teachers in your district to ensure that they will be able to participate in these kinds of meaningful ways.

The honor choir experience will feel entirely different for you and your students if you take the time to prepare ahead of time and engage wholly during the event. And the singers deserve nothing less than all of our best work as we work together to put the HONOR in honor choir!