As a teacher of teens I have to work somewhat cooperatively with the students’ choral directors, musical theatre directors, and various other coaches. I had a situation today that got me thinking about how important we are to young people as repertoire consultants. They cannot possibly know yet about all the possibilities of things that they can sing and are generally willing to try whatever we suggest. The student who came today is a 16 year old boy and trying out for a performing arts scholarship for college. He needs two contrasting pieces. One of his pieces is “Tu lo sai”, one of the old Italian songs, which is always a good choice. He needed something to contrast with that, preferably in English. At his last lesson he had enjoyed exploring “Ching a ring chaw” (Copland setting). Today he came and said his other teacher (who is handling the paperwork for his application) had another student doing that song so gave him “Skip to my Lou” instead.
This student has sung in choirs since he was a small boy and has been in high school musicals and madrigal choirs. He has sung in Latin, Italian, and German. He is extremely intelligent and highly talented. I patiently suggested that we might look at something else (than Skip to My Lou with a boom-chuck accompaniment) that might have a bit more lyric interest. We looked at several things, and settled on “O mistress mine” by Quilter. I have found that most young people enjoy the Shakespeare texts very much. They are usually exposed to them in high school and they like the bit of thinking that goes into deciphering the older English, and then working with the delightful literary devices such as simile and metaphor.
Now, “Ching a ring chaw” is no Shakespeare setting, but it’s spritely and clever and fun, and Copland is a terrific composer. Why would someone replace that with “Skip to my Lou”? He was willing to sing whatever was suggested, but he was very energized by the Shakespeare text and Quilter’s vigorous, interesting rhythms and 20th century harmonies. Young people may not know what’s available, but they do respond to quality when they encounter it. It’s important that we remember that ignorance does not mean that they don’t deserve the “good stuff” yet. There is good rep for singers of all ability levels.