Monday, November 8, 2010

The difference between children and teenagers...

               As a choral director, I get to work with lots of different age groups. Right now, I'm helping direct a college choir, an adult church choir, a children's choir and a youth choir (teenagers). I love the challenge of being 'everything to everyone,' but sometimes I'm surprised by how much it takes to keep each different group interested and enthusiastic and confident. The college group is pretty easy: they like to laugh and hear stories about your life (there's a squirrel eating my fake berries right now, by the way), but they don't have to be funny. They like to talk about their studies and clothes and the music we're working on. The adult choir doesn't need to be entertained, they just want me to explain things clearly and be consistent with my decisions about directing. It's more about the music for them, since they all have busy work days and are taking time from family to be a part of a choir. It's nice to work with a serious group like this, we make some beautiful music!

               Now, the children and teens are about as different as water and coffee. Well, water and coffee should be very different, it's too bad some people don't know how to make coffee and it ends up more like water. You shouldn't be able to see through coffee, sorry, tangent...they're as different as night and day. Maybe a list would be the best way to convey this:

1) Being the center of attention: 

Children: love it, thrive on it, try to do things to be it

Youth: Not including the 'class clown,' make them the center of attention (particularly with something like singing) and they may cry, leave, and never come back. I made this mistake last night and am trying to put out the flames (totally unintentional).

2) What I have to do to keep them coming?

Children: They always think you're fun and awesome, just email parents when and where.

Youth: Jump through major hoops, invite them individually, bring candy and food, send lots of reminder emails, be cool and funny and musically talented, pick music that they like, make each one of them feel wanted and talented and missed if they weren't there (althoug not too much or they might be the center of attention), sometimes guilt trip ("you're a leader, dangit"), make sure to call them by name. It's completely exhausting, I go home after a Youth rehearsal, curl up in a ball and cry then sometimes dream/nightmare about it.

3) Time spent building morale and enthusiasm:

Children: None, they are totally excited about everything we do. They actually make me more excited and enthused. They bring their buddies to choir because they love it. You can have 2, 10 or 50 children and they will be at the same level of enthusiasm.

Youth: Hours, days, weeks, years.... I'm not joking about years. It took me two years to build the youth choir from zero teens to about 30-35 who come consistently. It is a hell of a lot of work. I have to try to do things, like activities and food, that give them something to look forward to. Heaven forbid they invite someone to come--too embarassing. If we have rehearsal and are missing a number of our singers or leaders, it's like someone took away their iPod Touch. There is no enthusiasm and they are way too cool to be there if 'so and so' isn't here and smiling is totally out of the question. I'm so, so glad I'm not a teen anymore (especially a middle-schooler)

4) Time spent babysitting vs. time spent having fun and making music:

Children: 30 or 40% babysitting and 60 or 70% making music. Depends on how many preschoolers are on the front row. Last night two adorable little preschoolers were having a tickle fight in the middle of one of our songs--not kidding. 
Like this but more smiling and less choking.

Youth: 3% babysitting 97% having fun and making music. Besides the occasional "put away the gol-durned cell phone and quit texting," we can be goofy and silly and make lovely music all at the same time. I love taking a surly teenage boy who never smiles and teach him how to sing and have fun doing something other than strolling the mall or punching unsuspecting siblings in the bicep. 

So, while the children are easy to inspire and make me cheerful after every rehearsal, there are few things more rewarding than helping teenagers, who could be up to no good, learn to sing and take pride in creating music with other young people for the glory of God. Plus, that surly teenage boy who never smiles taught me how to do a fist-bump handshake the other day...'not the white way, the right way.'


  1. ha! I loved this post. I never thought about you getting to interact with every different age group! First, i want to know what happened with that kid who you made the center of attention! Second, next time I see you, you're teaching me how to fist bump the right way.

  2. Haha yeah nice post, I have a whole new level of respect for you. And yes please share what happened with the kid and demonstrate the fist bump!

    K that kid is a future serial killer.