Why Aren’t They Singing?!

The big day has come and you cannot wait!  It is time for the Spring Show!


Researched repertoire for hours, delicately selecting pieces that fit a cohesive theme, keeping in mind the ecosystem of your school, and appropriately challenging yours students


Developed careful plans of preparation of the music, including receiving appropriate administrative approval, making necessary purchases of music, creating communication memos to teachers and parents to keep everyone in the loop, laying out timelines of rehearsal goals, constantly assessing and tweaking ideas and documents as needed along the way


Maintained constant reflection on the entire process, including personalized verbal and written notes to principal and all teachers, making sure to sprinkle phrases of encouragement and excitement for performance day, creating verbal and written assessments to track each students’ progress on their song.


Mapped out all logistics leading up to the performance day including tracking expected student attendance for grading purposes, creating assigned places, rehearsing in the space of the performance, delegating a crew of students and teachers to run sound and usher classes onto stage in the correct order, write a script to introduce each class’ song, and running a full dress rehearsal with principal in attendance.


Now it is time!  The moment we have been anticipating for months has finally arrived!  The student body has practiced, the logistics have been mapped out, and the only thing left to do is breathe.  Performance day is here!


As the students file onto the stage you beam with pride and look forward to the positive performance experiences these children are about to have.  Things go well, the students’ performances were not perfect but they show so much improvement from when they first began. The joy in the faces of the students as they express themselves through music and movement proves that it was all worth it.


Then the moment no music teacher wants to have:  The next morning after the big show the principal finds you in the hallway and addresses you in an angry and frustrated tone.  


“They weren’t singing.  Why weren’t they singing?!”   


As music teachers, we’ve all been there–finding ourselves in a situation having a different expectation of how things should be or how a process should be worked through or how a performance turned out.  Although this moment-no-one-wants-to-have can feel incredibly insulting at first, these kinds of conversations can serve as reminders to take a step back and objectively evaluate the why.


Why are administrators angry when kids don’t sing (loud enough) during performances/special events?  

The expectation that all students would sing at full volume and perfectly execute all motions/dancing to the song has not been met.  Now the principal is left to evaluate the situation after the fact and most likely from an emotional, blame-seeking perspective. In this case, there are three possibilities:


  1. It’s the music teacher’s fault.  It is the responsibility of the music teacher to teach the music to the students.  If the students aren’t singing then the music teacher did not prepare the students.
  2. It’s the students’ fault.  They aren’t trying hard enough in class or in performance.  By not singing, the students’ are actively rebelling against teacher-given instructions.
  3. It’s the administration’s fault.  If the music teacher didn’t do their job, school hierarchy dictates that blame must also be placed on the supervisors of the music teacher.  


What’s really going on here?  Why aren’t they singing?


Between developing minds and growing bodies, there is A LOT going on here!  Students are under tremendous pressure to succeed in school, maintain peer approval, and carry the load of any home-life struggles.  Learning is tough work and their behavior in music class can directly reflect their struggles, exacerbate defiant behavior, or provide a calming refuge to the chaos that surrounds them.  Here are seven student thoughts that may be contributing to their lack of singing:

1) How am I going to be judged if I sing?  I don’t want to be made fun of for singing.


2) What happens if I don’t sing well?  I can’t fail if I don’t try.


3) What if my friend isn’t singing?  If the person next to me isn’t singing then I won’t either.


4)  What is going to happen the day of the performance?  I’m scared to sing in front of people because its a new experience for me.


5)  What if I tried to sing the song but it didn’t sound good or I don’t like it?  The song is too too high/low, too difficult rhythmically/melodic jumps, too slow, or too simple.


6) Why do I have to sing?  Even the teachers aren’t singing.  The behavior isn’t being modelled by the adults.  


7)  Why is music important anyway?  Its the first class that’s cancelled when we have to make up assignments.  We aren’t given tests or grades like real classes.


Where do we go from here?


In reality, there is no fault to assign in this situation.  Music is a process not a product. The success or failure of a school spring show is measured in more than a one hour performance.  However, as standardized testing has crept into a prominent place in overall school assessment, it is easy to understand how evaluating a spring show based on one final performance has crept into the perspective of the administration.  When there are many components and steps to the final outward presentation, communication and reflection are key. Whether you are a music teacher or a principal, as you sit back and dip your toes in the sand this summer, take a moment to reflect.  


Which of the above considerations were your shining moments this past year?  


What was your favorite part about your school’s year-end performance?  


What ideas do you bring to the table for next year?  


What is the true meaning of success?