Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Boys Power Sing-Amazing Rote Singing and Drumming

Boys Power Sing!

I’m blogging live from the Young Naperville Singers “Boys Power Sing “held at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois. (Visit www.neuquamusic.org)In an effort to get more boys singing (yay- there is more to life than football, yes?), Angie Johnson’s Young Naperville Singers organization (visit www.youngnapervillesingers.org ) sponsors this event every fall and invites their own boy singers as well as any boy in the community who wants to attend (and hopefully they will want to join a Young Naperville Singers choir after the experience).

The boys started out doing some great fun call and response and African style drumming led by Neuqua Valley High School chorus director Ryan Rimington. The event started at 9 AM and runs until 12:30 or so. There are over one hundred attentive boys in attendance- mostly in the eight to twelve year old range.

After Ryan’s call and response drumming session the boys started doing some very cool quasi-yodeling of an Austrian folk song, led by Jay Kellner, also from Neuqua Valley High School. For those of you who don’t know about Neuqua Valley, it’s one of the leading high schools in the country, both in teacher/student achievement and standards and boasts tremendous school physical facilities as well. The music department has been recognized nationally by the Grammy organization as a “Singnature” school of excellence in 2000, 2001, and 2005. So far everything has been taught by rote, by repetition, bodies are moving, and the boys are engaged and paying attention.

Shifting gears now, Ryan is back in charge, talking to the boys about what instruments they have around the house, how much fun it is to talk or sing with a microphone, and being silly with them. Now he’s taking some of the kids’ names and they are making up cool vamps/call and responses based on a kid’s name- great fun! He has continued on and actually has them singing in three parts, all by rote, and sounding very cool! Body motions and helping then feel some inner rhythms are part of the deal- and there still isn’t a piece of sheet music in sight.

Jay Kellner is back up front and has brought out about thirty male singers from the high school. They’re now singing the Austrian folk song that Jay started teaching the young boys awhile back. This gives the young boys a chance to see how much fun guys can have singing (the choir is hamming things up a bit!). They then launched into a Ladysmith Black Mombazo song. After they did this, Jay let some of the young boys try to conduct a few phrases of the song- imagine that, ten year olds getting a chance to conduct a group of over one hundred voices (and they did well).

Another change in gears- letting go of the young virile cave man drumming/ethnic folk thing and learning the very sweet, yet fairly angular melody of “Let me call you sweetheart”. This went well and fine doing the melody in head tones “loohs”, but when Jay introduced the lyrics young boys were giggling and gagging—“love”, “sweetheart”?-- kind of icky, right? Actually a pretty humorous moment, but Jay stuck with it and they learned the tune!

A break for pizza, juice, and a cool game at the lunch tables with the HS boys supervising nicely (my son Aidan especially liked interacting with the HS boy at his table), and then back to more singing and fun.

Finally, around 12:15 there was a quick run-through of all the mini-tunes and then a mini-concert for the 200 or so parents and siblings reassembled to listen and then take their boy home. The program went really well, the audience really appreciated everything , and it really was amazing- in three hours over one hundred young men, many with almost no singing experience learned (without sheet music) enough songs to put on such an entertaining mini-concert full of fun and positive energy- quite incredible. Let’s hope that a fair number of these boys now join Young Naperville Singers or at least consider joining their school choir.

Congratulations to Ryan Rimington and Jay Kellner for their inspired leadership during the day and also to Angie Johnson and the Young Naperville Singers organization for putting on this event, now in its ninth year.

Let’s all of us music leaders around the country do our part to get more and more boys and men singing. It’s only a recent US societal phenomena that playing or just being a couch-potato observer of highly competitive sports seems to have become an obsession in the minds of boys and men. Not that long ago singing was considered very manly, very virile. We need to get back to that viewpoint and refuse to give in to the idea that the only manly thing there is out there for boys and men to do are embracing sports where now only winning matters and succumbing to the mindset that winning at all costs in the business world is also an honorable thing. I actually get up on my soapbox at any of my guest conducting gigs and talk about this- even if I’m in front of a women’s choir (I ask then to recruit the boys/men in their life into joining a choir). We can turn the tide if we all work together and talk about it! If we ignore this issue, we will not have male singers for our mixed choirs before long- we all have to work on this NOW for the sake of the future.

I’m going to next look into what Charles Bruffy has done for awhile out in Phoenix and try to blog about his big men’s and boy’s power singing event as soon as I know more about it. And if any of you know of similar events, let me know about them please.

Thanks for reading,


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