How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

Hello Friends!

Just a reminder…submissions for this month’s guest blogging contest should be submitted by November 1.  Read on for Mallory Martin’s submission, followed by one from Emily Quezada.  Thanks for sharing ladies!  The idea is to get lots of ideas out there!  You can email your submissions to me at or, or you can type your submission right into the comment box.

The prize this month is…..(drum roll)…..

Favorite Folk Songs by Peter Yarrow

From Mallory:

You asked for step-by-step, so you got it!

Assembling my performance group is pretty straightforward.  My performance group is a 4th and 5th grade extra-curricular choir.  I write an invitation letter every fall and distribute it to all 4th and 5th grade students.  Children must return the permission slip before the first day of rehearsal.  The permission slip contains the child’s name, grade, and home room; the parent or guardian’s name and signature, phone number, and email; and a check box for how they will get home after rehearsals.

There are no auditions; I accept every student who wants to join.  At this age, I think turning students away causes a lot more harm than allowing a weak singer into the group.  I have heard too many horror stories of people who gave up singing or music for life because of one music teacher who told them they were bad.  Plus, I am a music TEACHER!  It’s my job to TEACH them to sing well!  I usually get about 50% of the students to sign up for choir.  This number increases when there is a performance scheduled at a major venue such as a Twins game or the Mall of America.

Choir rehearsals are after school, once per week.  The two grade levels rehearse separately because my classroom is too small to house all of them and there are no other available rooms in my building at that time.  Last year, rehearsals were 45 minutes.  I found that was not enough time to really go into the music, so I extended it to 60 minutes this year.  I feel like we can learn a lot more.  And, although it’s a high-energy group, I can take a minute to wait for them to be quiet without feeling like I’m wasting precious time.

Since our performances are in the gymnasium (we have a stage with curtains, lights, and sound system in our gym), we do rehearse on stage the week of the concert.  I set up the stage myself (big big job!) on Tuesday, then we start at the beginning of the concert and get as far as we can.  The next day, we pick up where we left off and go back and work transitions, solo parts, wordy songs, or anything else that needs special attention.  On Thursday morning, I pull kids from class for 60 minutes (thanks to the classroom teachers’ flexibility!) for our final rehearsal.  We eat lunch together then perform for the entire school (and whichever parents show up) at 1:30.  We do not rehearse after school that day, but meet back in the music room at 6:30 P.M. to warm up, go to the bathroom, and line up for the 7:00 performance.

Setting up and striking the stage is technically my job, but luckily I have helpful custodians and students and parents.  And, I try to plan ahead so the job is as small as possible.

I select repertoire as far in advance as possible.  Due to my predecessor’s panache, my school community is used to big, dance-y, costume-y, showy, themed programs.  My principal supports my desire to showcase quality music in a manner that is engaging, educational, and entertaining (which means I am trying to tone it down a bit!).  So, I often select music with a theme, and plan on doing a “big” show once every other year, so each student gets to do a “big” show.  I love dancing and choreographing, so I will often create simple dance moves that are riser-friendly and musically appropriate.  I also think that simple costumes are fun.  Read on to see two of my ideas for simple yet effective costuming.

This December’s theme is seasons.  This way, I get to select quality music and let the students perform some holiday music without making a full-out holiday concert.

Song List

Spring: Shadowphobia, Emerald Isle, and Piney Mountain Home (all Music K – 8)

Summer: Red Dragonflies (Japanese); Love the Summer, and We Go for the Gold (Music K – 8)

Fall: I Like the Colors of the Fall, Do You Recall September (Music K – 8); Skin and Bones (Traditional: I use the arrangement from Share the Music Grade 1.  The fifth graders love it and have no idea it’s from a first grade textbook.)

Winter: Winter Holiday (partner song with “Jingle Bells”) and Holiday Sing-Along (from Share The Music Grade 6)

For decorations, the art teacher is giving me the 3rd graders’ leaves after she takes them down.  In addition, I am going to cut out a huge snowflake, flower, and sun and pin them to the back curtains.  Décor: check!

For flair, we have some simple choreography to “Shadowphobia” and “Love the Summer,” as well as sign language for “Do You Recall September.”  We will add rain, cricket, bird, and frog sounds to “Red Dragonflies.”  I will have students who participate in sports wear their uniforms for “We Go for the Gold.”  I will print off words for the Holiday sing-along and have the audience join us on some of the songs.

My concert next April will be the revue “My Planet, Your Planet” published by Music K – 8.  I have written my own dialogue about some aliens who come to Earth because their planet was overtaken by garbage.  They want our help and end up teaching us about being “green.”  The choir will get T-shirts (paid for on their own unless there is a financial hardship, when the PTO will cover their cost) that are green with alien eyes on the front and the Earth on the back.  Students portraying aliens will wear the shirts normally with sunglasses and students portraying “Earthlings” will wear the shirts reversed with some sort of “Earthly” headgear such as a baseball cap or cowboy hat.

I hate spending money on props and costumes!  So, I try to: 1. Use items students already own.  2. Use items students will be purchasing anyway.  3. Buy items that are versatile and can be used over and over.

My gymnasium has a sound system and I have two fifth graders somewhat trained in how to use it.  Basically, they stand backstage to adjust the gain (volume) and start and stop the CD player.

I have an accompanist for any songs that will not be performed with CD.  She is paid from district funds at a standard, stinky district rate.

I am free to schedule my own concerts, but I make sure not to conflict with any concerts of our “feeder” schools (the middle and high schools that we feed into).

I have not had any negative comments from parents about my performances.  I am very sensitive to the inclusion of sacred music.  I am careful to find a balance between sacred and secular music and always choose sacred music for its educational value.  I am ready with a list of educational merits of each sacred song in case a parent or administrator wonders about the appropriateness of my song choice.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this essay contest!  I look forward to the opportunity to read other teachers’ submissions and glean many new ideas from them.

Mallory Martin

From Emily

My classroom teachers take on grade level performances (this began after we participated in an arts integration grant), so I am only responsible for giving performances with my after school groups. I have chorus (3-5) and Orff (4-5) who meet separately once a week to rehearse. The only requirement to join these groups is to have a signed contract and pay the activity fee. Auditions have their place but for these groups, I don’t feel it is necessary. We usually have 10-13 rehearsals before a performance.

In addition to my after school groups, I like to feature a class from another grade. Last year it was a 2nd grade class who performed Giddy-up My Burro.

My basic plan starts with knowing that my winter concert will always be something holiday/winter themed and my spring is always a musical. From there I narrow it down. When I am planning a winter concert I like to come up with some sort of theme to help narrow my song selection.

For example, last year’s winter concert was “A Passport Through the Holidays”. We performed music from around the world and the kids read a script describing where the piece came from and the celebration it is from. Here’s what we performed:

Giddy-up My Burro
La Pinata
Lo Yisa Goi
Kwanzaa Celebration
African Noel
Sleigh Ride (Recorder)
Christmas Comin’
Jingle Bells (Recorder)
Lion Dance

Once I have my theme I select songs that will highlight each group separately and then a few that feature both. I also like to find a way to incorporate recorder and movement; whether that be dance, sign language, etc. Some of the songs that we performed were simple but I made some tweaks to the arrangement to up it to where my performing groups were.

Emily Quezada


Questions and Answers

Hello Friends,Retirement is every bit as busy as teaching was, hence the long delay between posts recently.  I’ve received several comments that contained questions or requests, so “Question and Answer” seemed to be the best way to format a new post.

Question 1 is easy: “Are you ok?”  Yep….I’m fine.  My schedule was frustratingly full during August and the beginning of September – so much so that I was beginning to ask “When do I get to start my retirement?”  Things are starting to slow down now, so I’m ready to get back to one of my top priorities: blogging.  Thanks so much, Judy, for your concern!

Question 2 was a request for weeks 4 and 5 of lesson plans.  One of my goals is to  write some of the activities that I’ve used in other years, but for now here are the links to the lessons that I did last year.

Primaries, week 4

Intermediates, week 4

Primaries and intermediates, week 5

An easy way to access these lessons is to use the “Search by Month” drop down.  There is still one more lesson in September, so you would choose September 2011 from the drop down menu, and it will take you to all of the lessons that were posted last September.

Question 3 was actually a series of questions from Theresa Ogan.

“How do you decide “when” and “what kind” of music program (theme, topic, musical, instrumental, vocal, or combination) each grade level will perform?2) Suggestions for how to schedule rehearsals. (The past few years, our school has been over-loaded which has dramatically affected the quality and what type of program we can do.)3) What Musicals have been your favorites and of course including your students, staff and family favorites?”

I could keep on inquiring, but want to respect your precious time and everyone else that reads your  blog!!”

First of all, ask away!  Questions really help me know what to write about.  I’d love to know what you’d like to read about!

The “when” of music programs in our district is, in many ways, a limited decision.  Our district has become large enough that the programs in an elementary building could easily interfere with a middle or high school program for families that have children at 2 or more levels.  Therefore, we decide upon our calendar of events together in a department meeting, to avoid conflicts as much as possible.  When a conflict is unavoidable we schedule the elementary concert early, (6:30), and the middle or high school program later, (7:30 or 8:00), so that parents will be able to get to both performances.

At the elementary level, all second graders participate in a performance.  We alternate between the holidays and early spring so that those of us with more than one building won’t have to do 2 programs within a week of each other.  e.g., in my building A there is a program in December, while building B does theirs in March.  The following year we switch, so that no one always has a holiday program while another always has a spring program.

Our 4th and 5th graders have the option of performing during both of those years by joining chorus and/or band.  That performance is always near the end of the year.  In addition, they sing at a local craft fair in December, as well as the school wide holiday sing along.   Rehearsing with 4th and 5th grades is a challenge, because, although they rehearse during recess, they do not have the same recess time.  4th grade is having lunch while 5th grade is having chorus.  We worked this out by alternating chorus weeks by grade,,,4th grade would meet on week A, 5th on week B.  They learn their parts separately.

As we got closer to program time I asked the cafeteria monitors to  please allow chorus members to get in line first, and then let them come to the music room as soon as they were finished eating.  In that way, I received some time with both groups together.  I was only allowed 45 minutes of rehearsal with both groups on stage the day before the dress rehearsal, because they had to be pulled from instructional time in order to attend.  Not ideal, but we made it work.

Themes of the programs were up to me.  During the holidays we did multicultural programs like “December in Our Town”, or added additional songs to “An All American Christmas”.    In the spring it was a bit more difficult to decide.  For the last 2 years I had to make do with whatever I already had on hand because of budget restrictions.  Last year I used my Music Express magazines to put together a program of jazz pieces that included “Route 66”, “Birdland”, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Aint Got That Swing”.  The year before I used a different volume of Music Express for a program of Broadway songs including “Put on a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie”, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and “For Good” from “Wicked”.  One year I downloaded karaoke tracks from iTunes and made my own arrangements.

I can see I may have to do an entire post of favorite pieces…..

Question 4 is from me to you:

How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

This will be our second contest!  You may give general steps, or use an actual program that ou are working on.  (That would give us multiple repertoire ideas….!)  Once again I will submit all responses to a panel of music teachers for selection.  the prize will be:

Favorite Folk Songs, The peter Yarrow Songbook.  12 songs with cd.

Submission time begins now and will close November 1.  This gives lots of time for busy teachers to get their thoughts together.  Ready?  Go!


The Second Grade Program

Well, it’s here.  Rehearsal week for our second grade program.  Our first rehearsal was this afternoon, and I am encouraged.  I never quite know how these things are going to go until I actually get the kids onstage and see how they do.  We used no props today…just got the kids that have to move  to their positions at the appropriate time and ran through the songs.  So far so good.  I’m using very simple staging.  The students are standing on the stage steps.  On the left is  a flip form laid flat, with two desk chairs on it, labeled “Waldorf and Statler.”  There are 2 mics on those desks, plus another on the right hand side of the room.

By the way, with one exception  I got all of the songs from the Reader’s Digest Children’s Song Book.  Any songs that are being sung with recorded accompaniment are playing directly from my computer, which I have on a small rolling cart right next to me.

All students:  Good evening, and welcome to our second grade program.  Tonight’s program is brought to you by the letters G, R and T, and the number 2.  (Students hold up posters of each letter and number, which include their classroom teacher’s name and 2nd Grade.)


Song:  the Muppet Show Theme.

I bought a karaoke version of the song from iTunes.  It runs twice, probably because the song is so short.  So, the first time the kids just stand there and sing it.  The second time they bend their knees…boys go down when girls are up and vice versa.  Looks pretty cute.

Following the song, 4 “Ernies” in shower caps and robes come to the front.  Two will share the right hand mic, and two will take the mic from Statler’s chair.  In addition, 4 other “Ernies” in shower caps will come forward with bubble wands and solution to blow bubbles while the dialog is going on.

Ernie #1: Well, here I am in my tubby, and my tubby’s all filled with water and nice, fluffy suds.

 Ernie #2: I’ve got my soap and my washcloth, and my nifty scrub brush to help scrub my back.

 Ernie #3:  And I’ve got my big fluffy towel to dry myself when I’m done.

 Ernie#4:  But there’s one other thing that makes tubby time the very best time of the whole day.

 All Ernies:  And do you know what that is?

 All classes: Rubber Duckie!

Song:  Rubber Duckie…I’m playing this on the piano.

While the second grade is singing, our first pair of Waldorf and Statler carefully make their way to their “theater box”.  After the song, while they are speaking, Kermits 1, 2 and 3 will make their way to the other mic.  Our art teacher has designed mustaches on stick for Waldorf and Statler to hold in front of their faces, and I have some fake eyebrows to put on them.  She has also created “Kermit Collars” for them to wear….just like the real Kermit’s.

 Waldorf #1:  What was that?

 Statler #1:  That was very strange.

 Waldorf #1:  It was very weird.

 Statler #1:  Peculiar.

 Waldorf #1:  It was kind of amusing.

 Statler #1: Yes, it was rather funny.

 Waldorf #1:  It was incredibly funny!

 Statler #1:  I loved it!

 Waldorf #1:  Hilarious!

 Both:  Encore!  Encore!

Kermit#1:  Some of us Muppets are as old as Mrs. Rivera.  Jim Henson began creating us in 1954.

 Kermit #2:  But we didn’t become famous until 1969, when Sesame Street premiered on National Educational Television.

 Kermit # 3:  We would like to sing a song that was written for the program Sesame Street.  It’s called “Sing.”

Song:  Sing….piano accompaniment.

While the students are singing, Waldorf and Statler #2 make their way to the theater box.  While they are speaking, I’ll hand a microphone to Oscar, who will be standing in a trash can.  Our art teacher has designed trash can lids from paper plates and foil for several students to wear, but only one Oscar is actually speaking.

Waldorf #2:  How should we know how to get to Sesame Street?

 Statler #2:  We don’t even know how to get out of this theater box!

Oscar:  That song was just too nice.  This show needs something grouchier.  I know….how about a song about trash?

Song:  I Love Trash….piano accompaniment.  Props: The kids will have old sneakers and newspapers to toss over their shoulders onto the stage behind them when they are mentioned in the song.  Also, a broken umbrella, a toy telephone and a trombone, borrowed from our instrumental teacher, and which will NOT be tossed.

While the students are singing, Waldorf and Statler #3 go to the theater box.  When they are speaking, Count von Count will go to the other mic.

 Waldorf  #3:  It’s too bad Oscar is leaving the show.

 Statler #3:  Yeah.  I can think of some other people I’d rather see leave the show.

 Waldorf #3:  Who?

Statler #3:  Me

 Both :  Doh ho ho ho ho.

Count Von Count:  Greetings.  I am Count von Count.  I love to count things.  I can count in English: vun, two, tree.  I can count in Spanish  Uno, dos, tres.  But I’m especially good at counting backwards in Spanish!

Song:  Counting Backwards in Spanish

This is the one song that I didn’t get from the Reader’s Digest Children’s Song Book.  I bought it from iTunes for the kids to sing along with.  It’s not a karaoke version, but the singer is an adult male, so the kids voices will be easily distinguishable from his.   While the students are singing, Waldorf and Statler #4 go to the theater box.  When they speak, Miss Piggy will go to the other mic. Our art teacher designed pig snouts from egg cartons and elastic bands.  I borrowed some pink feather boas and bought a few cheapo Princess crowns.  We’ll have about 8 Miss Piggies, but only one will speak.

 Waldorf #4 :  Hey you old fool!  You slept through the whole number!

 Statler #4:  Who’s a fool?  You watched it!  Doh ho ho ho ho

 Miss Piggy:  In 1979 we Muppets starred in a Christmas T.V. special with singer John Denver.  Mrs. Rivera said that you would remember who he is, even though we don’t.  We would like to perform the song that John sang in that program:  It’s in Every One of Us.

 Song: It’s in Every One of Us…piano accompaniment

Segue to The Rainbow Connection.  (I bought a very nice karaoke version from iTunes.) The students follow me to stay together as we sway right and left.  It was tricky for them at first, because you have to sway and hold on one side before you sway to the other. 

 While the students are singing, our last Waldorf and Statler go to the theater box.

Waldorf #5:  I think I ought to see a doctor.

 Statler #5:  Why do you say that?

Waldorf #5: I’m beginning to like this show.

 Statler #5:  Just when you think this show is terrible something wonderful happens.

 Waldorf #5:  What?

 Statler #5:  It ends.

Reprise: The Muppet Show Theme

Doh ho ho ho ho

Reprise:  The Muppet Show Theme Song

Some other costuming and props that I’m using: I bought a dozen chef’s hats from Oriental Trading Company, for some Swedish Chefs.  I have a wig and sun glasses for one “Animal”, and a long pink wig for the girl muppet with long hair….don’t know her name….Flo?

So…I’ll keep you posted as to how it’s going.  I’ll take as many pics as I can, but I’m not allowed to post pics of the kids, so I’ll have to figure out how to show you some of this stuff.

Spring Chorus Music, 2012

I spent the week having the 4th and 5th graders sign up for chorus.  Because chorus meets during recess, and because the 4th and 5th graders don’t have recess at the same time, I have to alternate weeks.  Today, (Friday), the 5th graders began their rehearsals.  Next week 4th grade will take their turn, and we’ll continue to alternate until it gets close to concert time.  At that point we’ll have to finagle a way to get some 4th and 5th grade time together on the stage…but that’s several months off yet.  For now, we began our first song today.

Once again, Music Express Magazine has come to the rescue.  Like most other districts around the country, ours is in the midst of a budget crunch.  There is no money for new music.  Although I am no longer able to budget for or purchase Music Express, I have quite a backlog of issues at my disposal.  Last year I used them  to give the kids some exposure to the music of Broadway. This year I’ll use them again, for a program of Jazz pieces.  Each issue comes with 30 student magazines, one teacher magazine and a cd with all of the music.  In the case of performance pieces, there is a performance track and an accompaniment track.  There’s lots of other stuff too…listening maps, meet the composer interviews and articles about various musical styles and cultures.  It’s a great value; especially in an economy where so little is budget money is available . I played some excerpts for the kids during class before I had them sign up, and wound up with a good representation from each grade…about 85 students, total.  Here’s what we’ll be doing:

Music Express Magazine, Vol. 7

From Volume 7, #1, August /September 2006,  “Gotta Be Jazz”, by John Jacobson and John Higgins.

From Volume 7, # 4, January/February 2007, “Route 66” by Bobby Troup, arranged by Tom Anderson.  (This goes great with my “Cars 2” room theme!)  From the same issue, we’ll also be doing  “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing” by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, arranged by Tom Anderson.  Great Big Band Accompaniment.  This is the one we worked on today.  The kids loved it.

From volume 7, #5, March/April 2007, “Birdland”  by Josef Zawinul and John Hendricks, arranged by Tom Anderson.

They’re all asking for “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, but I told them it will depend on whether I can find an accompaniment track in a child friendly key.  Share the Music, Grade 4, has a nice arrangement, but it’s a sing along track, not an accompaniment track.

The only problem with these arrangements is that there isn’t much 2 part singing in them.  Some, but not a lot.  That will work out well at my smaller school, though, where I only had 36 kids sign up.

So here we go… final season of spring chorus rehearsals. How very strange.

Fall/Winter Choral Selections

My chorus meets during their recess time. Unfortunately, not all of the students have recess at the same time. So, in order for me to be able to eat lunch, (very important,) we alternate weeks. The 5th graders meet one week, 4th grade the next. Toward performance time I ask the 4th graders to come and join the 5th graders as soon as they’ve finished their lunch, so that they have the opportunity to practice together.

This fall we are working on 3 pieces…one of them fairly lengthy, although not too difficult.

We began with “Glo-glo-glorious” from this year’s Music K-8 magazine, issue #2. It’s a partner song that the kids got into right away. It references holidays, but is a generic piece about the wonderful, fabulous time of year that December is.

I purchased “Jingle Bell Juke Box” from J.W. Pepper.

Jingle Bell Juke Box

For $69 I received a reproducible book with multiple songs, plus a cd with full performance and accompaniment only tracks. We’re working on “Sleigh Ride” which is pretty ambitious for my 4th and 5th graders. We’ve spent most of our time on this one, but they ARE getting it! I should mention that this book is actually a program with dialogue in and of itself…I’m just not using it that way. Perhaps my successor will find it useful. :0)

Lastly, I purchased “The Night Before Christmas” from Plank Road Publishing.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

There are multiple options for obtaining this piece. I chose instant download + hardcopy with cd to be mailed. I did this because it is a long piece and time is quickly passing. I wanted to get started on it right away. It is, however, not difficult. The kids are fighting over who gets to be in the mouse chorus. Sigh. It’s a good problem to have though, and whoever winds up singing it, I plan to have them make some mouse ears and dress in pajamas. I’ll make a big sign on a stick that says “Mouse Chorus” with an arrow pointing down, and have a mouse in the middle of the group hold it up high. Adding some silly actions will make it complete. Gotta say, the kids are loving it.

When I have chorus sign ups in the fall I tell the kids that they are signing up through the end of December, and that I expect them to show up for rehearsals for that time. If they don’t want to sign up again in the spring that’s fine, but I expect them to take their commitment to me and to the other chorus members seriously. I don’t have too many problems, either with attendance or with spring sign ups. Most re-up, even though they are giving up a recess every other cycle to do so.

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do for the spring, but since it will be my last program, I’m considering doing all of MY favorites from years past. I’ll let you know!

Have a great week!

Performance Music for Chorus Students

Our spring concert consists of the Elementary Band and Chorus.  This year we’re performing music from Broadway.  Everything I needed I found in Music Express Magazine.  A subscription includes the music, cd with demonstration and performance tracks, as well as  other articles, listening maps and play alongs.    A subscription currently costs $195.00 for 5 issues.

Here’s our program:

“Put on a Happy Face” by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, arr by Tom Anderson for Music Express Magazine Vol. 9#4.  From the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”    2 parts.  P.4

“Disney On Broadway,” arr. by Tom Anderson for Music Express Magazine  Vol.9#2.                                                                 The medley includes “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” by Elton John and Tim Rice, “Beauty and the Beast” from the musical of the same name, by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman,  and “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman .   2 parts.  P.4

“Castle on a Cloud” from the musical “Les Miserables,” by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzer.  Music Express Magazine Vol.9#5.   Unison.   P.4  “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent,” by Jonathan Larson, arr. by Tom Anderson for Music Express Magazine Vol.9#3. P.4

“For Good” by From the musical “Wicked,” byStephen Schwartz , arr. by Tom Anderson for Music Express Magazine, Vol. 9#5. March/April 2009.   2 parts.   P.10 

I’ve included a link to good introductory video.    My chorus is made up of 4th and 5th graders.  At the end of the year the 5th graders will move on to middle school, so I’m teaching part 2 to all 5th graders and inviting even non-chorus members to join us for one last song.