My Favorite Calling
Primary Music Leader is my FAVORITE calling in the Church. And by the way, it should be director or leader, not chorister (which in choral circles means a choirboy). The best Primary Music Director I’ve ever watched is my friend, Kim. She is a pro, really, with a Music Education Degree. Okay, so for those of us who don’t have that professional training, here are some tips I learned from Kim and things I’ve learned myself through trial and error.
- Treat the Primary children like a choir. Call them “Primary Choir”. Have them sit up straight in their chairs like choir members do. Have them practice standing as directed, just like real choir members do. If they are not responding to your requests you say, “I’m sorry Primary Choir but that’s not good enough, let’s try again”. And when they do what you requested you really praise them, “Congratulations Primary Choir, you did a great job following my direction!”
- Sing more, talk less. We talk too much in the Church, any musician will tell you the same thing. During singing time, SING. Too many directors spend 10 of the 20 minutes gabbing and wonder why the children get restless. SING a lot. Sing standing up, sing sitting down. Have the children stand and face the back door to sing to their parents down the hall in Gospel Doctrine.
- During Singing Time, rehearse more than one song. Who said we have to spend the entire 20 minutes on the song of the month? No wonder kids now days don’t know the standard Primary Songs. I couldn’t believe it when one ward of Primary children didn’t know “Pioneer Children” or “Give Said the Little Stream”.
- Appropriate teaching aids are a MUST. Remember that word strips ARE NOT effective in Jr. Primary because over half the kids can’t read yet. For younger children use lots of hand actions to teach the words. For example when teaching “I Believe in Christ” make the shape of a crown on your head for the word “king” and point to your heart for “heart”. These actions need not be distracting, just helpful. Remind the children that they are learning the actions just to remember the words and they will not use those actions during the primary program in the fall. Pictures are another wonderful way to remind children of the words as they are learning the song.
- As a director, don’t be afraid to sing in front of the children. Copy cat is a fabulous method for teaching a song. You sing a phrase then the children sing a phrase. If you feel completely uncomfortable with that, get another ward member to be a musical guest. The guest sings a phrase, then the children copy. It is much easier for children to copy the notes sung by a human voice than notes played on a piano. 20 minutes is not a long rehearsal. When I directed large community Children’s choirs (ages 5-11) we rehearsed for 45 minutes and the kids were able to stay focused throughout the entire rehearsal. Primary children should be expected to do the same.
- When you need to use child helpers, let the children know you’ll be choosing someone who is sitting up straight and tall, someone who is watching the director, someone who is singing, etc. This reinforces appropriate singing time behavior.
- Be creative when planning the music for the Sacrament Meeting Program. Get small groups or soloists to sing the 2nd or 3rd verse of a song. Have a child play an obbligato part on a flute or violin. Have a group of children sing harmony for one of the songs, perhaps the chorus of a song.
- Set clear expectations and praise the children when they are meeting those expectations. If you say “good job” every time the kids sing any song, any way they choose, they’ll tune you out. The kids will either think you don’t care or you’re just plain clueless and didn’t realize that they really sounded horrible on that last verse. Set the standard by teaching them to sing with gusto but without shouting. Teach them to stand still with their hands to their sides. Teach them to watch the director. Teach them to memorize the words. Teach them these things then expect them to follow you as the director. When they meet your expectations really praise them, with lots of enthusiasm, to reinforce their fabulous singing and behavior. “Primary Choir, give yourselves a pat on the back…that was fantastic…you followed my directions exactly…you sang like angels.” They’ll know you really mean it.