Choirs for kids hit all the right notes

Singing in a choir helps kids build their confidence, and discover more about teamwork and commitment

Little children love to break into song. With the slightest encouragement, they’ll warble out the newest tune they’ve learned at daycare or from a television show. However, as youngsters grow, they too often become shy about singing, slowly losing the pleasure of belting out a favourite song as the radio plays or even loudly singing Happy Birthday to a friend. To nurture and preserve that love of singing, families might consider having their children join a choir. While youth choirs have a certain cute factor — all those little ones singing so sweetly — there are also many valuable life lessons a child can learn from engaging in this group activity. “Singing in a choir is a great way to initiate your child into the musical arts,” says Amy Henderson, Associate Director of the Choeur des enfants de Montreal and Director of the McGill Conservatory Youth Choir. “You learn all the things you would learn taking a music class, like how to read music, sing properly, use your body to make music, keep a beat and sing in harmony. But it’s relatively inexpensive and it’s very rigorous.”

In addition to music skills, children also learn about teamwork and commitment, as they are expected to work as a team, attend weekly practices and the occasional extra rehearsal (before a show, for example). Erica Phare, the outgoing director of the McGill Conservatory Choirs (including the children’s choir), has worked with young singers for years. She says singing is literally good for kids minds and bodies.

“In a choir, they have to memorize things and you’re not singing in just English or French, so kids are learning other languages,” she says. Phare adds that some studies seem to show that singing actually increases endorphins, chemicals produced in the body that contribute to a sense of well-being.

Being part of a choir also helps children discover more about themselves. Maya Occhiomero-Boyd, 16, has been with the Choeur des enfants de Montreal for four years and says the experience has helped her be more comfortable in the spotlight. “I’m a pretty shy person and the first time I performed I was terrified,” she says. But knowing that she and her fellow singers had worked hard and were prepared helped calm her nerves. “I don’t really get nervous anymore.”

Parents sometimes wonder if their child’s voice is “good enough” for a choir. According to Henderson, “If you can speak, you can sing.” She adds that kids who have trouble staying in pitch show great improvement after a few weeks in a choir. However, Phare notes that each choir has its own expected skill level, so parents should talk to the choir director to see if it is the right place for their child. Henderson adds that singing is also a great opportunity to help shy kids find a voice because it’s a supportive, non-competitive environment. “They have the thrill of rehearsing and having the expressive capabilities but they don’t have to stand out alone on stage,” she said. “They’re more secure making music with other people.”

A choir not only teaches children valuable life lessons – it can also be a lot of fun. Kids thrive on being a part of a group and being able to contribute as a valuable team player. “A lot of kids are looking for places to belong,” Phare said.

Montreal-area choirs for kids

Choeur des enfants de Montréal
Ages: 5-18 (children grouped according to age)
Location of rehearsals: N.D.G. Community Centre, 3757 Prud'homme
Auditions: required for older students (generally 7 and up)
Cost: $325 to $400 depending on the age group
Contact: (450) 458-7129 or www.choeurdesenfantsdemontreal.com

Choeur des jeunes de la Faculté de musique UdeM
The University of Montreal's music faculty offers two choirs for young people.
Ages: 6-9 (Initiation), 9-17 (Interpretation)
Location of rehearsals: The Faculty of Music at the University of Montreal, 200 Vincent d'Indy
Auditions: required for older students (9 and up)
Cost: $330 per year
Contact: (514) 343-7512 or http://ecoledesjeunes.musique.umontreal.ca

EMSB Chorale
The choir is open both to students from the English Montreal School Board and young people throughout Montreal.
Ages: Grade 4 to Secondary 5
Location of rehearsals: Westmount Park School (auditorium), 15 Park Place, Westmount
Auditions: required, held on Saturdays iin September
Cost: $150 for EMSB students otherwise $270
Contact: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7234 or director@emsbchorale.org

Chorale parents-enfants de l'école préparatoire de musique de l'UQAM
Parents and children sing together on Saturday mornings.
Ages: 6 and up, with or without a parent
Location of rehearsals: Music Pavillon at UQAM, 1440 St. Denis (near the Berri-UQAM metro)
Audition: none required
Cost: $100 for the child, $50 for adults for a 15-week session
Contact: (514) 987-3939 or epm@uqam.ca

McGill Conservatory of Music
Three different choris, including on just for boys.
Ages: 8-12 (Children's Choir and Boys' Choir), 12-19 (Youth Choir)
Location of rehearsals: McGill University's Macdonald Campus, Ste. Anne de Bellevue
Auditions: required, usually held in September (consult the website)
Cost: $279-$319 for the year
Contact: (514) 398-7673 or www.mcgill.ca/conservatory/courses/choirs