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The Family That Sings Together

The lasting benefits of community sing-alongs

Sing it Out

A Star is Born

Every family has its stars. Dad might be an amazing baritone. Your youngest might have a beautiful soprano. Keep in mind, though, that voices come in all shapes and sizes, and that the aesthetics of singing are largely subjective.

Translation? Make sure everyone gets a chance to sing and to be a star. Children should be praised for their efforts, no matter how off-key or “unpretty” the sound. Phrases such as “she really doesn’t have an ear for this sort of thing” or “he doesn’t really have a good voice” can prevent a child from pursuing an interest in music for years to come. The mechanics of music can always be learned; it’s up to you to help develop the enthusiasm.

Community sing-alongs can be a fun and unique way to spend some quality family time. Here’s a brief overview of the types of sing-alongs that may be available in your community and what you can expect from them:

Informal Sing-alongs

These casual gatherings are all about fun and will almost always include songs that kids of all ages are bound to know. Very little practice is required and music is often rehearsed on the spot. These are great for smaller children or for the shrinking violets in the family. No pressure—just singing.

Good Bets in This Category: 

  • Christmas caroling 
  • Movie sing-along showings for films like The Sound of Music 
  • Patriotic music festivals for holidays like the Fourth of July 
  • Events that celebrate fun or wordy songwriters such as Gilbert & Sullivan
Formal Concerts

These events are designed more for the musical connoisseur and showcase well-known classical works. Participants are expected to know their music in advance and very little (if any) rehearsal time is given. These performances are an exciting challenge for budding musicians or for a family with musical experience. Young kids may find it hard to stay focused, as many of these concerts have serious source material and are sung in a variety of languages from Latin to French.

Good Bets in This Category:

  • Handel’s Messiah Sing-Ins
  • Oratorio Sing-Ins (recommended composers include Handel, Mozart, and Fauré)
Why Kids Should Go

The statistics are abundantly clear that music will help your children on the road to academic success, but perhaps more importantly, a family sing-along, whether it’s Messiah or “Old McDonald,” exposes your child to something new. Maybe they’ll discover that they love singing. Maybe they’ll find that they like the music and want to hear more, or maybe they’ll catch the performance bug and audition for the school play.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Rehearsal

According to music educators, kids often learn best by example. If you choose to participate in a sing-along that requires preparation, try some family rehearsal sessions. Have your kids watch you practice and then imitate your rhythms and phrasing. Also, go over some of the finer points of choral singing, such as posture and the correct way to hold your music (usually mid-way between the chest and hips… never covering the face!)

When You Go

Choir conductors will tell you: If you’re performing, you should look like it. It’s a good idea to impress upon kids that they’re part of something special by having them wear special clothes. If it’s a casual event, maybe have them wear something that’s just a cut above the everyday. Remind them that what they are doing isn’t just fun, it’s important!

Handel's Messiah

So your family is headed to a Messiah Sing-along. This event offers a festive, low-pressure atmosphere while simultaneously providing families with the special challenge of performing a great work of Baroque music. Plus, you can sing along right from your seat—as much or as little as you like, according to your comfort level.

“Hallelujah” and Beyond: Singing in the Chorus of Handel’s Messiah
While the “Hallelujah Chorus” is the most recognizable tune from Messiah, there are 18 other choral movements that need as much vocal power as they can get. Have your family take a look at the lesser-known choruses and see if they’d like to sing along. “For Unto Us a Child is Born” and “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” are good choices; they are both up-tempo numbers with crisp lyrics that include some tongue-twisters. Whichever you choose, make sure you watch the conductor closely—some of the choral cues tend to creep up on you when you least expect them.

“Behold, I Tell You a Mystery”: Terms to Consider
The Baroque Era revolutionized musical style and form. Here’s some vocabulary that your family might find useful when tackling Messiah

        Melisma: A melodic trick in which one word or syllable is set to several notes over one long phrase. Examples include the word “born” in “For Unto Us a Child is Born” and “amen” in “Worthy is the Lamb.” It’s probably a good idea to “stagger” your breathing during melisma passages (that is, take a quick breath wherever you can fit one in, but be sure not to do it at the same time as the person singing next to you). 

        Word-Painting: The act of making the music sound like its lyrics. For example, you may hear the word “water” accompanied by a ripple effect in the strings. 

        Da Capo or AB Aria Form: Most Messiah solos will have an opening section (A), followed by a contrasting middle section (B), followed by a return to the opening music. This form is known as “da capo” (or “of the head”) because it requires that the singer go back to the “head” of the piece, often adding extra musical flourishes that show off the voice and add variety.

“Rejoice Greatly”: Celebrating Your Role in Messiah
The Messiah choir is much like an ancient Greek chorus, a group that both comments on and participates in the dramatic action. Before the concert, discuss this with your family. What is the chorus meant to represent in each number? What are its responsibilities? Do the soloists have symbolic roles as well? (Hint: the soprano and tenor often function as angels, while the alto and bass often act as choragus, or choral leader).

“The Trumpet Shall Sound”
As always, remember to have fun. Enjoy the wonder of lending your voice to such a spectacular piece of music and sing out!

Credits

Writers

Eleni Hagen
Original Writer

© 1996-2017 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

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