One Educator’s Journey in Creating a Choir to Roar About
Nov 16, 2018 2018-11-16
By Kim Scherrer
The student body at Crystal Lake Central (CLC) High School is a diverse community of students from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and interests, including students enrolled in the Life Skills program. These students may struggle with emotional connections, physical limitations, or cognitive understanding. Regardless of their individual challenges, they bond through their school experience as Central Tigers.
When I began teaching choral classes at CLC, I had the opportunity to work with a small number of students from the Life Skills program. Each year, I would watch a divide form in the choir between our general education students and the Life Skills students, making it difficult for all students to excel.
For the general student population, rehearsals and performances provided opportunities for building social relationships. But for students in the Life Skills program, who frequently struggled to make social connections outside of their friend groups, it was difficult to develop these new relationships. Each year, I would walk away feeling like I missed an opportunity.
One year, a Life Skills student from my church choir joined the Tiger Pride Choir. The first few rehearsals were a time of adjustment as we all fell into the new routines of the school year. As the rest of the students began to settle in, this student became agitated in class and often responded with verbal outbursts. I was particularly affected because I had previously worked with this student in my church choir and he was highly successful in that group.
I found myself analyzing the differences in the choirs. Our church choir was small and each student was given personal attention during the rehearsal. The school choir included a large group of students who were not familiar with each other. This large and unfamiliar environment was not positive for this student. He ended up dropping the class.
At about the same time, I attended a statewide music conference that featured a choir for all abilities with a combination of students with unique challenges. The choir was supported with teacher assistants and speech therapists. Inspired, I was eager to outline a choir that would work with our teachers and administrators to support all students in music.
We asked students in the Life Skills program if they would be interested in being a part of a new choir class. Twenty-five students said they were interested. I then asked the members of our choirs if anyone would be interested in joining a new choir. Twenty students volunteered. The Special Education Division Leaders assigned two amazing teacher aides to the class along with speech, language, and behavioral therapists, as well as hearing itinerants, who worked with me on strategies to help serve students struggling in different areas.
My plan was to feature this choir with our other choirs in our quarterly concerts. As we enjoyed success together, the students brought more suggestions to the group. They were eager to choreograph songs and were confident enough to sing through cracks, squeaks, and breaks to find our “upper” voices. In the beginning, we struggled to sing a melody together, but by the end of the year we were singing with harmony parts.
Along the way, we learned about each other's amazing musical gifts. In one case, I moved the key of the song to make it easier for students to reach the high notes. A student with autism complained that I was playing the “wrong notes” on the piano. We were all fascinated by this student’s gift of absolute perfect pitch. He could identify and analyze every note played. We asked him to help us with starting notes or to find parts that we were not singing accurately. I quickly realized that I never would have discovered his talent if he had been a member of one of the larger choirs.
We are now in our second year as a choir. Our student leaders are much quicker to step in and guide their peers. Our pace moves quickly and we are accomplishing more as a group than we did the previous year.
I am thankful every day for this choir, the experiences we share together, and the relationships we have built. Our department is stronger and richer because we are fully inclusive to all CLC Tigers—and that is something to ROAR about!
Check out the Crystal Lake Central High School Tiger Pride Choir as they rehearse for their holiday concert.
Kim Scherrer is in her twelfth year teaching at Crystal Lake Central High School. She is highly dedicated to her students and their vocal development. She served as Choral Director and Department Chair from 1996-2001. She returned to Crystal Lake Central in 2012 as the Assistant Director of Choir and now serves as the Director of Choirs. She enjoys conducting their five academic choirs, as well as the Madrigal Singers. She earned her Bachelor's of Science in Choral Music Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her Master's Degree from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago.
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