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In the first of his series of articles, Sub-Organist of Manchester Cathedral Jeffrey Makinson gave practical advice on auditioning children for either a school or church choir. In this article, he takes a look at warming the choir up, an important aspect of any rehearsal.

Before you go into any rehearsal situation with children, it would be wise to make sure that you decide on your parameters: although the objective behind any music-making is the enjoyment of music, choirs need an approach that will help them to achieve particular standards. And the only way to make sure of these is if you know what you want and how to get it. Always look carefully at the music before you start – never just grab the first thing you see. Every piece of music requires particular skills, and if you home in on these, at no matter how basic a level, then you will be helping to develop a stock of techniques that your children can call into play at any time.

More on that next month. First of all, however, we want to see the children standing freely, with both feet firmly on the floor, with heads up and shoulders back. The best way of doing this is really to show them yourself…they need to be relaxed, so if any are looking slightly regimented, get them to shake themselves and try again. Although they are going to want to get singing straight away, it might be best to start with a few comments on breathing and voice production, since this is something you are going to need to come back to time and time again!

  1. With their fingers positioned on the area below their sternum, ask them to take a deep breath in. You and I both know that this will end up with them purposefully expanding their chests without even thinking of the diaphragm, but you must try to make them fully aware of what the muscle is, and what it can do. Ask them to push their fingers into the gap so that it hurts very slightly, and then ask them try to push their fingers away from their bodies with no other means other than the diaphragm itself. Generally, when they do this, they will stiffen every single muscle and joint in their upper bodies, and they will certainly not breathe out, so ask them to repeat the exercise by taking a long slow breath. Although we know that the diaphragm moves up when we breathe, ask your youngsters to try to make it move down. It will have the same effect.
  2. Explain to the children that by making this muscle go down every time they take a breath, they will be taking in as much air as their lungs can cope with. You could visibly display this with a plastic pop bottle, half filled with water: squeeze the bottle until the liquid is at the neck and then put the cap on tightly. Liken bottle to their lungs and the water to their diaphragms: when it is at the top of the bottle, they have empty lungs, but once the top is off, and the air rushes in, then their lungs will fill up to their fullest capacity.

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