Popular Choir songs for High School
Using pop music to entice your middle school students
With each passing year, I come across the same dilemma when selecting repertoire… How can I appropriately incorporate popular music for my students?
So much has changed in regards to what a choral program should look and sound like. With the introduction of Glee and movies like Pitch Perfect, it’s no wonder students think that spontaneously bursting into song and dance is an easy task. And to make matters worse (but more appealing to teens), these shows are using very new songs that are typically challenging for the middle school voice. So many of us enjoy programming what we consider “classics” that we often forget (and some refuse to consider) that Popular music can make or break our programs.
When giving surveys to my students over the last few years, the question “If you could add one thing to the choral program, what would it be?” has been answered with, “MORE POPULAR MUSIC”! For me personally, there is a fine line in picking quality literature that has meaning and purpose for my students. That is where my struggle began as a young teacher, but as years have gone by, the acceptance and rigor of finding quality ‘Pop’ tunes is one in which I have invested my time.
Since many of us that teach middle school aged students are considered to be the “meat in the choral sandwich”, we have to keep the knowledge, pedagogy, and most importantly, the interest going in our programs so that they move forward to the next level. These ‘newer’ songs give our students a link to stay in the program. These songs, after all, are usually something that they can relate to simply by recognition. Middle schoolers crave music that they know and are super intrigued when they can go on Youtube to find the originals (And believe me, they do!).
Keep in mind that I’m using the term ‘pop music’ VERY lightly in this article, meaning that it’s something that is not from the dark ages that the students might have heard before. I attempt to include at least one pop song for each grade to be performed at the concert in May. Some years this does not always happen. It depends on the talent level of the groups that I have and the music that is available. I cannot bring myself to choose a piece of music simply because I need one. In light of that revelation, I have come to the following conclusions about incorporating songs like these into a choral program:
-The entire program does not need to be pop songs. The audience might think otherwise, but they need to be educated as well!
-If you don’t like it, neither will they!
-Don’t settle for an arrangement just because it’s available. Look harder.
-Find a song you don’t mind teaching, not one that will not make you go bonkers after teaching it for only a week.
-It’s okay to let the kids choose a song every once in a while. Present to them 5 songs that you’ve deemed acceptable and let them pick which one it will be. Middle school students could use a bit of ownership in the music making process!
-Beware of false advertising! Some song’s voice parts are labeled online more simply than they really are when you get the score delivered to you (Ex: If a piece of music is labeled SAB, and it turns out that it’s really SATB). Those extra voice parts that you don’t know about are usually what make the harmonic balance of the piece! If you don’t have the voices, don’t perform it!
-The suspense is exciting! Understand that if the kids know there is a pop song in their future, they are dying to know which one you’ve chosen!
-Get your student instrumentalists involved. The kids who are not in choir will be blown away (and want to join) when they realize they could be singing with a real band!
-Choose a pop song that has some form of value. ie: What will the students learn from singing this piece?
Here are some arrangements I’ve had success with in the past:
Put a Little Love in Your Heart (With Love Train), arr. Greg Gilpin
Drive My Car, arr. Emerson
Build Me Up Buttercup, arr. Funk
Here Comes the Sun, arr. Billingsly
Blame it on the Boogie, arr. Huff