Replacing an Icon, Dealing with Tradition, Dealing with Parents, Booster Clubs | by Brian Reeves


Kids want you to be negative about the former teacher.  Don’t.  Say nothing but great things and your problems will decrease dramatically.  It will still be hard, but this will make it much easier.


Pick your battles.  Some traditions you can do away with immediately.  Others you might want to keep around for a few years.  Try to get a read on the people.



I am no master at dealing with parents, but I think the most important thing is to respond to them in a timely manner.  If they call you, you have to call back within a day or two.



Handpick an awesome leader.  Someone who will work with you.  A rogue booster club is NOT fun.


Substitutes | by Janice Ragland

            Unfortunately, finding a qualified music sub is often not possible.  But more unfortunately there is a general conception that having a “sub” means “holiday.”  You set the expectations in your classroom BEFORE the day of the sub.  If you have not established your standards, the sub is faced with a very difficult situation.  Do not return to the classroom with criticisms of the sub when YOU did not establish clear instructions and plan.  Occasionally we know when we will be gone, but often illness does not give us advance warning.  So have a generic lesson plan that can be used at short notice.

            Consider this about movies – you turn off the lights, give the sub no seating chart, no one know what the movie is about (or half the class has already seen this movie).  When you return to class no mention is made of why they watched that specific movie.  This is an impossible situation for a sub.  The students have no accountability for watching the movie, discipline is impossible in a darkened room, and students know they are anonymous…

            If you show a movie, have a questionnaire for students to answer and MAKE THE GRADE COUNT.  If a student causes problems for a sub – DEAL WITH THEM.  If you leave a writing assignment – GRADE IT.  If you do not hold students accountable, you are increasing the difficulties for the next sub.  If the sub does not follow your instructions, let the appropriate administration know about it.  This is still YOUR classroom.  You must maintain control even when you are absent.


Vocal Health for Singers and Conductors | by Noel Fulkerson

The way music teachers use their voices is critical to the teacher and to the singers that he or she teachers and conducts. The importance of vocal health for the teacher should be obvious. But the singer is also affected because much of the vocal production is formed by observing a vocal model – the choral conductor:


Some suggestions:


  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Always have water available to lubricate the throat.
  2. Don’t overuse the voice. Above all – don’t sing with your ensemble. Besides not hearing what is happening with them, you can injure your voice by using it too much.
  3. Get plenty of rest. Signs of fatigue appear in the voice and lead to vocal abuse by overcompensation in the face of fatigue.
  4. Know when to stop. Cheerleaders and Yell leaders, as well as music teachers are prime candidates for abusing the voice. Often, the only true remedy is rest….and one must be disciplined and intelligent enough to do so.
  5. Watch how you speak. Those who speak in the “head” voice are less prone to hurting the voice. Since higher pitches are more easily heard, develop the habit of talking lightly and in the higher speaking registers of your speaking voice.
  6. Examine your life-style.  If you are under stress or work in high energy, you must also have times of relaxation to counter any tension caused by circumstances in your life. Any tension in lifestyle reflects its self in the voice and in its ultimate health.
  7. Educate yourself. There are numerous resources to help you know about the voice and how to keep it healthy. The Voice Care Network and other summer seminars are excellent ways to learn about the voice and how to impart good vocal health habits to your singers.
  8. Most importantly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is the #1 vocal health medicine. Drink it

Keeping Your Voice Healthy | by Mary Collier Mims

For most of us, our voice is both our vocation and our avocation.  We use it everyday for teaching, but we also use it for worship and leisure.  It is our most valuable asset.  Here are some important rules to follow regarding the safekeeping of your voice and one simple exercise to help you avoid vocal cord damage and injury.


  1. Please don’t smoke.
  2. Drink water as if you are dying of thirst.  Don’t measure how much you’re drinking, just keep it handy.  If you ignore this rule, your vocal cords will become inflamed and stay that way.  Do not substitute any other beverage.
  3. Never raise your voice over your normal speaking tone.  Train your students to recognize a raised hand as your signal to get quiet.  If you talk on the phone for long periods of time, be especially cautious about how loud your voice gets.   Before making a phone call, turn off all other sound-makers (T.V., radio, car engine).
  4. If you insist on singing with your students, don’t sacrifice your posture or your technique.  Are you leaning over a keyboard with your neck stretched out?  Do you jerk your head from side-to-side when singing with different sections?  Remember, most of your students see you as their model.
  5. If you get sick, see a doctor.  You are coming in contact with a virtual sea of germs.  If you think you have picked up something scary (strep throat or mono), you must see a physician.  If your laryngitis or sore throat lasts more than 3 or 4 days, see an ENT.  If there’s a serious problem (nodes or tonsillitis), you need to know.  Andy, here’s the good news, you’ll get well.  You don’t want to use up all of your sick days in your first year of teaching.
  6. (OK, here’s where things get serious).  No caffeine, no aspartame.    This is actually not as hard as it sounds.  Caffeine and aspartame are diuretics.  They both flush liquids from your system and negate all that water you’ve been drinking.
  7. Still having problems?  It could be gastric reflux.  Singers are notorious for having this problem.  You can call it heartburn, but it’s really burning up your esophagus.  Try eating your evening meal a little earlier and cutting back on carbonated beverages.  There are several good OTC remedies for gastric reflux.
  8. Don’t separate your throat from the rest of your body.  Please set aside 30 minutes of your day for physical enrichment.  Don’t call it exercise.  You are enriching your body through movement.  Now for the vocal exercise:
  9. Before you begin your teaching day, begin a hum on your lowest pitch and slowly hum up a minor third, then back down to the starting pitch.  You are stretching your vocal cords.  Take your time as you move up two or three pitches.  Do this exercise before any other warm-up and after periods of talking and/or singing.

How to Keep Your Singing Voice Healthy

Unlike other musicians, singers carry their instrument with them twenty-four and seven.  In fact, they ARE their instruments.  We choral directors are the only voice professionals that most of our choristers will ever know.  How can we help them learn to respect and care for their voices so they can enjoy singing throughout the rest of their lives?  Here is what we should do and what we can tell our students to do.  If we can consistently practice MOST of the following routines, we should be able to enjoy enduring vocal health while setting a good example for our students.


MONITOR ALL PHONATION:  This includes ALL sound made by the vocal cords. In short, if we are not being paid to make noise with our voices we should be silent.  This is the number one challenge in maintaining vocal health for us and for our choristers.

a.     Vocalizing. While not all choral directors are vocal soloists, we should all be able to demonstrate proper vocal tone for our students.  We should vocalize early in the day before we start teaching.  This takes only about 5 to 10 minutes and should be done the same time every day to form a habit, perhaps while driving to work. There are three reasons for vocalization: 

                 i.) to warm up the vocal mechanism to keep from hurting the voice

                ii.) to build vocal technique to build the voice’s strength, agility and range,

                iii.) to improve ear training/sight singing. 

Each personal and choral warm-up should include at least one exercise in each category.  We should avoid singing or talking while our choristers are singing.  It strains our voices and keeps us from hearing them singing.


b.     Practicing Repertoire. We should always sing songs that fall easily into our range.  Belting is fine if a singer has learned how to properly support this style of singing but no one should carry a heavy registration (chest voice) too high. This is very damaging to the voice.  Songs should fit the technical ability of each singer. One hour per day is better than longer sessions once or twice per week.


c.     Speaking: As teachers and choral directors, we use our voices all day long and many of us develop chronic hoarseness and even vocal nodes.  We need to monitor our voice use and learn when to listen and when to use our voice carefully.  A portable microphone can help us conserve our voices during our rehearsals. We should avoid speaking over loud ambient noise (as in moving vehicles, bars, restaurants, and at parties or sports events.)  If we want to be social, we should smile a lot and nod.  If others want us to talk, we should flash a card reading: “I’m a singer and cannot speak above all this noise. Let’s talk later.”  SPEAK SOFTLY—SPEAK SPARINGINGLY.


d.     Miscellaneous vocalizations: Most of us, and most of our students laugh, and shout and carry on with far more volume than is necessary.  Let us not waste our vocal capitol on needless noise!


KEEP HYDRATED: we should drink between 6 to 8 cups of water per day when we are healthy.  If we are fighting a cold or allergies, we should drink more.  The old adage “pee pale” reminds singers of one way to monitor their fluid intake: if we drink enough water, our urine will be pale and nearly odorless. 


EAT SMART: we should select a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, and good proteins, and low in carbohydrates and fat, with hardly any sweets.  Most fast food is not healthy.  We should check out what you eat and not waste money on junk food.


COPE WITH GASTRIC REFLUX:  this is also known as heartburn or acid indigestion.  Often the stomach’s highly acidic digestive juices slosh up the esophagus and “scald” the posterior portion of the vocal chords.  This can lead to hoarseness and make singing a real challenge.  In mild cases the following remedies may help.

     a.  Avoid eating during the last two hours before retiring.  This gives the stomach time to finish its part of the digestive process before retiring.

     b.  Avoid eating fatty foods, especially late in the day.

      c.  Avoid highly acidic foods, to avoid heartburn.

      d.  Treat mild heartburn with over-the-counter antacid products.

      e.  Raise the head of the bed so that the gastric juices cannot flow “up hill” to the vocal cords.  Insert a cushion between the mattress and the inner spring.


REST from 8 to 10 hours in bed every night.  If we have trouble sleeping, we should turn off the TV, drink a cup of chamomile tea, and listen to calm music for a half hour before retiring while doing some stretching and deep breathings exercises.  Once in bed, we can do breathing exercises while counting mentally:  Inhale (4 counts); Exhale (4 counts.)  This helps the mind focus on breathing and counting instead of reviewing the day’s woes or obsessing over tomorrow’s tasks.


EXERCISE:  we need 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise per day 4 to 6 days per week.  The easiest and cheapest way to achieve this is to walk rapidly.  We can park several blocks away from school and use the stairs instead of elevators.  Why not golf, swim, or play ball?  We should be careful to exhale slowly when lifting weights (instead of holding the breath) and inhale as we relax to avoid putting pressure on our vocal cords. 


AVOID CATCHING OR SPREADING INFECTIONS:  The following precautions are good preventative measures at all times.  Review them especially before bus trips:

  1. Wash hands
  2.  Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth
  3.  Avoid putting anything other than food in the mouth
  4.  Keep silverware on the plate or napkin
  6.  Avoid un-safe sex:


COPE WITH A SORE THROAT:  There are several different kinds of sore throats and each requires a differing coping strategy.

  1.  Pharyngitis:
  2.  Laryngitis: 
  3.  Chronic hoarseness: 


FIGHT UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS:  The following products may help forestall or shorten a cold if taken early.  These are just suggestions to be approved (or not) by one’s own health care professional.

  1. Zinc-rich products:
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Expectorants



a.     Get plenty of rest.  Stay in bed all day if possible..

b.     Drink more water than usual.  Force the fluids to help flush the toxins out of the body.  Many people enjoy lemon tea sweetened with honey.

c.     Inhale steam by using a vaporizer in the sleeping room and by inhaling steam off the top of a hot beverage.

f.     Put a little Vicks or Mentholatum just under the nose and rub it on the chest before going to bed to inhale the eucalyptus vapors while sleeping.


AVOID HARMFUL SUBSTANCES:  While health warnings abound, students need to be warned repeatedly to abstain from the following:

  1. Smoking or chewing tobacco
  2. Taking any illegal drugs,
  3. Taking painkillers before singing


PROMOTE MENTAL HEALTH:  keeping a healthy mental outlook will make it easier to sing freely and in a healthy manner.

  1. Reduce stress
  2. Take time to “re-charge the battery”
  3. Treasure those two tiny bands that reside in the larynx
  4. We should sing songs we love


Now let us go, and sing, and let the music happen in and through our healthy bodies!