Thanksgiving is behind us, so now it’s time to jump into full gear and get the kids ready to perform some festive music for the winter season. Whether you choose to do a holiday sing along or keep things more seasonal, here are some great tips to help you organize, prepare, and execute a fun event for your school community.
Creating the Concept
The first thing you’ll need to decide is what exactly you want to do! You may need to bring in some outside help on this front- talk with your administrators to figure out what will fit the school’s calendar best, how long to make the assembly and who all will be included. You’ll need to figure out where and when to hold the assembly and make sure to get it on everyone’s calendars- the office, custodians, and classroom teachers will all need to be aware ahead of time, since it will impact everyone’s schedules. Once you have those details worked out, you’ll need to decide what type of event this will be. Will you have the kids perform in front of each other, or will it be an assembly where everyone sings everything together? In my school, our All-School Sing is the only performance opportunity in December, so I have each grade level prepare two songs to perform for the rest of the school. Then we sing familiar seasonal tunes together as we transition between grade levels. This works well for me, but there are tons of other options that might be a better approach for you and your school community.
Choose Your Performance Music
Choosing music can be a daunting task, especially if you are trying to put together a themed performance for an entire school. I teach grades K-6 in my building, so that means selecting 14 unique pieces if I want every grade level to perform alone. I have had years where it worked better to have two grades perform together, which definitely cuts down on the planning. Remember- you can choose to plan this however works best for you and your students! This should be a fun experience for everyone- don’t make so much work for yourself that you can’t enjoy it with the kids.
When it comes time to pick the songs each grade will perform, I grab my winter editions of Music K8 magazine (which I thankfully have many years to choose from) and get to work. I typically use their Magazine Index feature on the website to pull up Winter songs, then can listen to excerpts there to make my list. This works way faster than rooting through all the CDs to listen and make my choices. I also keep a running list of what each grade has performed every year so I don’t repeat the same things all the time. That can be a challenge when I have this performance at the same time of year every year. To be honest, I always use the same recorder songs in grades 3-6 because there just aren’t enough options that are seasons, use the notes my kids know, and are simple enough to memorize in a few short classes. I do recycle the vocal selections as well, but never two years in a row.
Choose Your Transition (Sing Along) Music
Since I use my All-School Sing as a performance, I use the transition times between grade levels to do the Sing-Along music. I teach a diverse population, and work hard to choose music that can be enjoyed and sung by all. There are tons of sing along videos on YouTube that work really well for an All-School Sing Along. I have my students stand on the steps in front of our stage to perform, while the rest of the school sits on the floor of the cafeteria to watch. We have a projector screen that comes down from the ceiling that I project the sing-along video on to. Projecting the lyrics works well for me because I don’t spend very much time working on the sing-along songs during music class. I put links on my website so kids can practice at home, and I share those links with all of the teachers so they can play them during indoor recess, arrival/dismissal times, and for brain breaks. Then at the All-School Sing Along assembly, I just use those videos and everyone can join in very easily. Here’s a list of songs I’ve used that have worked well for my community: Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, Marshmallow World, Hot Chocolate (from Polar Express), Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, Frosty the Snowman, Suzy Snowflake, and Mr. Grinch.
Spending Some Time in the Copy Room…
Once your music is selected, it’s time to get it organized. This is going to take some time, so I typically go in the Sunday after Thanksgiving so I can spread out and have the Copy Room all to myself. I create a single binder where I keep one copy of everything. I love that Music K8 magazine give reproduction rights to use the music in our classrooms. I copy the piano part, the student part, and the lyric sheet and keep them all together for each song in my binder. I keep the binders from year to year- which has been very helpful when I am selecting the new music each year. I can leaf through them to see what songs I did in prior years, and I can quickly make new copies of music from the copies I’d already made previously. Once I have each song copied out of the magazine, I also scan and save a digital copy of the pages to easily print again in the future. I also use these scans to create slide show we use during class. The last thing I keep in the binder is a burned CD with all of the audio files on it. I don’t typically use the CD, but it’s always good to have a back-up, or to have it on hand for a sub to use if I catch a stomach bug in December (like I did last year)!
For my students in grades 3-6, I create a handout with their music on it. They all play recorder at this performance (yes, even my brand new beginning 3rd graders are ready to perform this simple arrangement I wrote called “Winters Here!”), and need to have a paper they can take home to practice from. They are also able to read and track the lyrics on the page well enough that having the paper is helpful. I do not make handouts for the younger grades, as it is too challenging for them to follow along, and the sounds of the papers rustling drives me to the edge of my sanity. Instead, I create a slide show with the lyrics and then embed the audio files within each slide to use during music class. I do this for all of the grade levels, so there are 14 slides in all. Here’s an example of one I made for my Kindergarten students this year. Since they aren’t expert readers yet, I created a slide and put pictures of the items they’ll sing about in the correct order to help them remember. For the 1st and 2nd graders I have the lyrics on a slide with the audio file, but I can often find a video on YouTube with the lyrics showing much bigger and easier for them to follow along with while we practice. For the older students, I rely on them being able to read the lyrics on the screen in the slide show or to use their paper to follow along.
It’s crazy how much work goes in before we can get to the real work of preparing the students for this event. I get about five class periods with each homeroom to prepare. We work on our performance songs most of the time, but I make sure to sing through the transition songs once or twice over the course of the whole month as well. We do our All-School Sing on the last day of classes before Winter Break. On that day, we do not follow our regular schedule for arts classes. Instead, I get a 20 minute rehearsal with each grade level in the morning. They come down with their teachers already in their correct order that was established during music class and shared with the teachers ahead of time. We practice how we’ll sit on the floor, stand up, stay in our order to walk up onto the stage steps, sing and play our music, then practice coming back down off the steps. I have a PowerPoint running with all of the sing along videos loaded and a slide for each grade level that says the titles of their songs and has the audio accompaniment files embedded. The kids get the chance to practice in the space, and I know that everything is working right with our technology. Win-win! After the morning of rehearsals, the kids all have their lunch and recess times. When the last group comes in from recess we have about an hour to do our assembly, then they go straight to their classroom parties before heading home for a few weeks off from school.
When it’s finally time to put on the show, everything should be basically on auto-pilot. The PowerPoint is ready, the technology has been tested, the kids know their music and how to get up and down off the stage. The teachers and administrators are wowed, and you have officially earned your winter break! I hope this has given you some good ideas- but remember, you can and should tweak everything to be a good fit for your school community. Don’t forget to have fun!