by Kylie Stultz-Dessent
Starting a clarinet choir is a great way for young clarinet students to develop a wide range of valuable musical skills. It offers clarinet students a unique performing experience that exposes them to new knowledge, new music, and new instruments. Not only is this ensemble beneficial to your students’ musical progress, but their band directors will also benefit by hosting this type of ensemble at their schools! And they will LOVE you for even suggesting it! Starting up this type of ensemble takes a lot of recruiting and let’s be honest…bribing with cookies. However, once they are hooked, your students will be reminding YOU about upcoming rehearsals and performances!
For me, the most important part of setting up a clarinet choir is picking music that is stimulating and engaging. It needs to be catchy and fun, while offering challenges that the students can conquer and perform with confidence. Past experience has taught me that students love good music… and when I say “good music” it means music composed by the musical “greats.” Surprisingly, composers like Mozart, Bach, Rimsky-Korsakoff, and Holst have all been favorites of my students. In other words, don’t feel like you only have to perform Disney’s greatest hits or Uptown Funk (although these are fun too)!
One of the most obvious results of clarinet choir is that is helps your students build skills on the auxiliary clarinets (eflat, alto clarinet, basset horn, bass clarinet, and contra). While your students might not play these instruments in their lessons or band class, it offers them an outlet for new interests in the clarinet family. This is a major perk for band directors who are always looking for students to step up and play the difficult auxiliary parts in their wind ensembles… think Molly on the Shore. The alto clarinet solo that opens this piece is no joke! Although it can be a logistical nightmare, I find rotating my students around on different instruments is a fun way to get them comfortable playing multiple clarinets. Just make sure they all have their own reeds!!!
Another advantage of playing in clarinet choir is that is improves students’ listening skills and musical independence. I consider clarinet choir to be like a large chamber ensemble. It is easy for the students to get lost in wind ensemble due to the large amount of musicians and parts. During a clarinet choir rehearsal, we often discuss which parts are important to listen to while playing and which parts need to come out of the texture. Good clarinet choir pieces and arrangements provide interesting passages throughout all parts on the score, making each member of the choir equally important. This gives each section of the choir “time in the spotlight,” and challenges all member of the choir. (Side note- It is up to you to select music that will be engaging for each section of the choir. This takes time and a little research, but it is definitely worth it!)
Every year my students can’t wait to perform at their state-wide solo and ensemble contest. Giving your clarinet choir a performance goal to work towards is always a great motivator! The amount of improvement that happens as the performance date approaches is always so exciting and the students notice it too! If there aren’t contest programs available to your students, try some nontraditional venues that will serve the community. I once played a clarinet choir concert at a hospital and the patients loved it! It’s ok to be creative with this!
While there are so many benefits to starting a clarinet choir, my favorite part this activity is the fact that it is a great opportunity for your students to bond with each other and with you! Many of my students have played together in clarinet choir throughout high school and it is something they look forward to each year. The multi-age nature of the ensemble gives my older students leadership responsibilities and my younger students enjoy looking up to the experienced players in the ensemble. It is a collaborative effort and I love how all of the members feel a sense of ownership within the group. So if you have a lot of young, energetic students, give this ensemble a try! It has been a rewarding and valuable part of my students’ musical curriculum.