BIJA CHILDREN'S CHOIR
PARENT & STUDENT HANDBOOK 2017-18
(updated May 2017)
I. Welcome Words
II. About the Bija Children's Choir Season
III. Annual Performances
IV. About our Nonprofit Status & Fundraisers
V. Rhythmics: Movement-based Music Education
VI. Description of Choir Levels, Entry & Advancement
VII. Community Connections
WELCOME to the Bija Children's Choir, where we are deeply dedicated to educating and inspiring your young person who loves to sing, as well as enriching the Sebastopol area community through our quality multicultural performances.
Bija is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning creative seed, which represents the Bija Choir's mission of sowing and nurturing seeds of musical skill and creativity among our community's youth. Creating in the arts is what defines us as human, and the music skills that students learn in choir classes are life skills, as well. They learn how to listen, how to use their voices with confidence, how to work in harmony with others, among many other things.
Just as it is with any seed, the growing conditions are essential, and this is where you, the parents, play a crucial role in your child's success. Although it is very helpful for parents to have musical skills to share at home (such as being able to sing in harmony, play an instrument, read music, etc), it is not at all necessary in order for children to develop choir skills of their own. What is most important is that you support your child's class learning by bringing them regularly to class on time, playing the provided song references for them to study at home, and by participating in choir events and activities that are held throughout the season.
The following pages describe in detail about how our program works, expectations around concerts and fundraisers throughout the season, descriptions and goals of each choir level, and FAQ's. If there are any further questions please feel free to email anytime at email@example.com. Thank you for investing your family's time and energy into our program this season. Singing is a gift that lasts a lifetime!
Truly, Maria Bija Creative Director
ABOUT THE BIJA CHILDREN'S CHOIR SEASON
There is an annual rhythm to the Bija Choir season, beginning in mid-September when new students enter choir groups leveled by age and ability, and ending in the spring. Students perform several times throughout the season as described in the following paragraphs. A “full season” with the Bija Children's Choir is 22 weeks long from September until late March at a tuition rate of $300 plus a costume fee.
Beginner level students (entering Preparatory Choir, or Junior Choir when offered) have the option to either register for the full 22-week season or for only the 12-week fall session before committing to the rest of the season. The opportunity to continue participating for the rest of the season is guaranteed for fall session students, while mid-season entry (in January) is open to new students only if space permits.
All students in the auditioned Concert & Treble Choirs begin in September and commit to a full season, which includes weekly classes mid-Sept through late March (with vacation breaks), and several more guest performances throughout the Spring and sometimes Summer. The musical and social dynamic cultivated over a year-long commitment allows a group of singers to best develop their ensemble sound and skills, as well as take on special music projects that extend over months.
ABOUT THE COSTUME FEES:
The Bija Choir performance costume consists of a white tee & choir vest for all students ($20) -- plus a white cotton smock for girls ($10). Boys must provide their own tan/khaki pants, and all performers need to provide their own white ankle socks and brown or black shoes. Any additional costume elements needed for specialty-themed concerts are covered by fundraisers.
Need-based scholarships are available. It is the Bija Choir's policy to make quality choral education available to all children who love to sing, regardless of family income. Scholarship Request Forms are available upon request.
New Preparatory Choir students may request a Free Trial Class on the first day of the session as long as there are still openings on the roster, and reservation requests are made in advance. For Concert and Treble Choirs, an audition is required before trying a class the first day of the season.
There is also a week of Community Holiday Classes in December when Bija Choir students invite friends/siblings to attend, bring an item for the food/clothing drive, and learn songs & choir games with us. Auditions are not needed at any level for friends to attend this special open class day.
ANNUAL PERFORMANCES & EVENTS
NOVEMBER Harvest Concerts
All Bija Choir students perform at several events throughout the season, such as Harvest Concerts in November, where they may be the featured performers and joined by special guest artists from the local or greater North Bay Area, or other times the Bija Choirs are guest performers at a local celebration.
DECEMBER Community Holiday Events
The Bija Concert & Treble Choirs perform a handful of songs at a community holiday events, such as benefit dinners or the Sebastopol Tree-Lighting Ceremony (held on the first Thursday in December at 5pm), which is always a fun event filled with holiday cheer.
MARCH: Bija Cultural Storyconcert Fest & Prayer Flag FUNdraiser
On the third weekend of March, the Concert & Treble Choirs perform in the Bija Cultural Storyconcert, which is an unique choral performance woven into a spoken folk tale, highlighting a selected world cultural tradition.
Special guests including a storyteller, musicians and dancers from the local and Bay Area, are also incorporated in the Bija Story Concerts, illuminating the rich cultural resources that exist in Sonoma County's own backyard.
Storytelling is an important art form for teaching lessons and reinforcing morals, and when threaded together with traditional choral and dance elements, make the Bija Cultural Story Concerts a rich, multicultural performance event for the community each year.
Leading up to this concert, there is an artistic choir-wide Prayer Flag FUNdraiser, where families and friends sponsor messages/symbols that are designed onto prayer flags made from re-purposed cloth (similar to buy-a-brick or tile sponsorships) , and strung up to decorate our concert venue. Many students and parents enjoy this artistic outlet and our concert hall becomes a gallery for their rich talents. Proceeds from this fundraiser help to cover costs of the concert, such as the hall rent, sound/lighting design, guest artists, publicity, etc.
APRIL / MAY / JUNE Festivals & Summer Concerts
Late spring and early summer performances are often held outdoors, such as the many years of Summerfest Concerts held at the Ives Park outdoor stage. All Bija Choir classes perform at this event along with special local guests, and the repertoire follows a Nature theme. To cover costs of this concert, we hold a Homemade Pie Sale and Picnic Basket Raffle during the show. The vibe of this event is relaxed and fun, as families and friends spread out on the sunny lawn and enjoy delicious pie and great music, Sebastopol-style.
ABOUT OUR NONPROFIT STATUS & FUNDRAISERS
There's a popular myth claiming that nonprofits are not allowed to make any profit at all. If this was the case, nonprofit businesses could not exist! While it's true that nonprofits have an unpaid Board of Directors, they do have paid employees/contractors, and in fact the organization itself is allowed to make quite a lot of money, considered as "assets" necessary to achieve its nonprofit mission. However these assets must come from a broad community support base (ie lots of small donations from the general public versus a few major private or corporate sponsors), and employees receive low to modest wages rather than lofty stipends as in the private sector. The primary focus of the 501c3 nonprofit is to serve the community-- which in our case is through youth choral education and cultural performances-- rather than accruing money.
That being said, nonprofits must have a healthy flow of revenue in order to thrive. The Bija Children's Choir maintains healthy revenue by holding three fundraisers per season, including a silent auction social in the fall, an artistic fundraiser in the winter, and a pie sale & raffle in June. All Bija Choir families are expected to participate on some level, whether to help bake an item, work at a table, help set up/ clean up at an event, find business sponsors or auction items, or perform other tasks. Participation in fundraisers is intended to be fun and social, and not at all meant to break the family bank.
The Bija Choir also participates in ongoing shopping benefit programs like eScrip, Whole Foods Nickels for Nonprofits or Giving Days, and appeals to organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary Club. There is money out there available to nonprofit arts education programs, and the Bija Choir is dedicated to channeling it towards providing a rich and rewarding choral program for our local youth and community audiences.
RHYTHMICS: MOVEMENT-BASED MUSIC EDUCATION
One of the unique aspects of the Bija Choir program is that the music theory learning at all levels is based on the movement-based methods of Dalcroze Eurhythmics, otherwise referred to as “Rhythmics”, not to be confused with Eurhythmy of Steiner's Waldorf education. Eurhythmy is an interpretive spiritual art form, whereas Rhythmics is a method of music education created by Swiss Professor Emile Jaques Dalcroze at the turn of the 1900's. Dalcroze found that a strong rhythmic vitality is the primary factor underlying musicality, and the key to developing a strong sense of rhythm is movement. Both Kodaly and Orff methods grew out of the Dalcroze pedagogy, with Kodaly focusing on the Solfege singing/ear training aspects of the Dalcroze approach through using visual hand symbols, and Orff focusing on the compositional aspects using xylophones.
The Dalcroze approach honors the fact that musical instruments do not play themselves. Bodies play them. Hearts & minds play them. Rhythmics teaches the student's body, heart and mind as “the whole first instrument,” and builds a vocabulary of listening and movement experiences (both habitual, such as walking, jogging, skipping, to more creative uses of time, space, and energy) from which to draw upon for musical literacy and performance skill.
For a most primary example, beginner students are asked to march to the beat (of music played skillfully by the teacher), and then are asked to add hand claps with the marching, to then using only hands, maybe at times with a partner, to vocalizing on “ta” and gesturing in the air. After students embody the beat in different ways in close connection to the music, it is visualized on the chalkboard. A student might asked to make percussive beat marks in the air as the teacher marks them on the chalkboard, which the teacher then turns into standard notation of musical quarter notes. Over time and practice of this cyclical process, ranging from the simplest to the most complex of rhythmic motifs or musical expressions, when the student reads the notation, the movement connection has been logged into the body, and the rhythms are played or sung with steady pulse, whole-body vitality-- one of the defining elements of being “musical.”
All aspects of music can be taught through Rhythmics movement activities. Meter, accent, phrase, dynamics, articulation, harmony, texture, mode, character, syncopation, polyrhythm, form, and so on. More refined levels of expression require more refined movement abilities, so Rhythmics also develops a student's fine movement skills and spatial awareness, muscle control and balance. To move gracefully and intentionally, to have command of one's body, also builds self-confidence as an important element of performance.
In addition to music theory, Rhythmics also recognizes that music-making requires social awareness and skills, such as leading, following, adapting, listening, working in groups of different sizes. This is all part of the teaching agenda in class, where students are invited to create and contribute ideas, or other times listen, watch and follow, or adapt to changes in the music, or work in partners or trios or larger groups.
Naturally the younger the choir student group, the more Rhythmics is incorporated. However at all ages and levels, Rhythmics is the way Bija Choir students begin each class to develop music literacy in an enjoyable, social, and physically-integral way, which then they apply to their repertoire learning and performance.
DESCRIPTION OF CHOIRS, ENTRY & ADVANCEMENT
As it is with developing any skill -- such as playing soccer or dancing ballet or painting-- there are specific techniques, skills, and muscles to develop for singing. And of course, this development takes time. Ideally, students begin taking Bija Choir classes at elementary school age and continue through the program until teenage years. However for the many students who join the program later in middle school, entrance into the Bija Children's Choir is considered by age and ability. Choir classes are offered as follows:
The Bija Junior Rhythmics Choir is a specialty class taught by founding director Maria Bija, offering 5-6yr olds early musical training without audition. Junior Rhythmics Choir is a joyful, active class, and is a very sweet introduction to the choir setting. Dalcroze Eurhythmics activities are woven throughout the class, providing students with an integral movement connection to musical literacy. As suitable to their age, Junior Choir students are not sitting in chairs or standing in choir lines for very long at a time. Small percussion, handbells, and props such as scarves are sometimes used to enhance the singing experience.
Specific goals of the Bija Junior Rhythmics Choir include:
Discovering the four different vocal sounds: whisper, talk, sing, shout
Becoming aware of a “head voice” versus a “chest voice,” and the use of breath
Experiencing the time-space-energy of basic rhythmic durations & patterns, dynamics, articulation, tempo, accent, meter, binary/ternary beat, steady pulse
Hearing the difference between major and minor modes, & step vs skip intervals
Developing a sense of even phrases and cadence harmonies through movement
Connecting movement to music, leading to picturing and notation
Following/playing a steady beat and matching pitch
Giving movement ideas and following others, working in partners or trios
Gaining a feeling for the “ensemble” experience
Cultivating a love for music through learning quality choral repertoire and vibrant movement experiences
Students who are 6yrs old and turning 7yrs in the autumn months are encouraged to enter Preparatory Choir at the start of the season.
The Bija Preparatory Choir is for beginner students ages 7-12 without an audition, and is an encouraging yet comfortable setting for inexperienced singers. Rhythmics activities start the first 15 minutes of class, and afterward students stand/sit in choir seating for vocal warmups and learning song repertoire. The last activity of class usually involves a song with movement choreography, or a fun choir game that builds listening skills and community among students.
Goals of the Bija Preparatory Choir include:
Developing a sense of rhythmic buoyancy on a steady beat
Singing in the "head voice" & exploring other vocal qualities
Singing and recognizing on-pitch vs off-pitch
Breathing from abdomen to support healthy, free-flowing vocal tone
Moving, reading & performing basic rhythmic durations and patterns, and applying them to pitch and melody
Experiencing through movement: duration (quarter, eighth, half, whole, dotted), accent, meter, dynamics, tempo, articulation, even and uneven phrases, binary/ternary beat, rests, mode/character-- and picturing/reading them in artistic or standard notation
Hearing and singing major/minor/pentatonic solfege scales & repertoire
Reading notation of solfege melodies step-wise, knowing where to find “doh” in F Maj
Hearing & singing unison, maj/min 3rd, perfect 5th, octave intervals
Coordinating stepping the beat side to side as a group
Singing rounds and beginner part-songs to develop harmony skills
Learning and memorizing songs in different languages
Learning about performance composure in choir-wide concerts
Cultivating a love of singing through quality repertoire and vibrant class and performance experiences
Once students have completed a season of Preparatory Choir, they will be considered for Concert Choir based on their harmony singing skills, rhythmic abilities and behavior composure demonstrated in class and performances. Requests for student assessments are welcome at any time.
***PLEASE NOTE*** While the Preparatory Choir aims to help students develop skills that will qualify them for Concert Choir, musical and behavior development is a highly individualized process and therefore there is no guarantee that every Preparatory student will advance to Concert Choir.
The Bija Concert Choir is for early intermediate singers ages 8-14 by audition or invitation. Students find it fulfilling to work in 2 or 3 part harmony and be among other capable and focused singers, making the energy of this group inspiring and enthusiastic. There are opportunities for students to give ideas and help create certain aspects of performances, and students look forward to working with professional guest artists in annual concerts.
Many students spend at least one season in Prep Choir before moving up to Concert Choir, however it is also possible for new students to audition directly into Concert Choir, especially if they have singing experience or study an instrument. Students who are accepted straight into Concert Choir without a season of Preparatory Choir should be generally familiar with basic music notation and terminology as described in the Prep Choir Goals above (Home Study Booklets for each choir level are in process).
To enter Concert Choir, students must be able to sing consistently on pitch in a freely flowing head voice, hold one part of a 2-part harmony, show solid rhythmic ability (such as stepping a steady beat side to side & clapping the off-beats), and show a positive focused behavior composure in class and in performances.
Goals of the Bija Concert Choir include working with the foundational elements listed for Preparatory Choir class, plus:
Achieving and maintaining choral blend at different tempi and dynamics
Intermediate level Rhythmics, movement canons, mixed meter, syncopation
Hearing and singing modal solfege scales & repertoire
Reading solfege melodies step & skip-wise, finding “doh” in 1-sharp/1-flat keys
Hearing & singing all major, minor, and perfect intervals
Group dance coordination and expression
Singing rounds and songs in 2 or 3 part harmony
Following choral sheet music arranged for SA or SSA
Self-evaluations after performances, watching video recordings and giving group critique in a positive, constructive manner
Building students' confidence and sense of fulfillment through participating in vibrant multicultural performances for the community
Female students age 13-14 who have completed previous season/s of Bija Concert Choir are eligible to be considered for the Young Women's Treble Choir for ages 13 & up. Teenage boys who wish to continue singing in the Bija Choir program may participate in the SATB Adult Vocal Ensemble in the fall.
The Bija Young Women's Treble Choir is for advanced intermediate female singers ages 13 & older, designed to work on special music projects in addition to participating in the annual Bija Choir concerts for the community. By the time students reach this level they are committed young musicians and can advance to levels of choral excellence. Master classes with highly-accomplished music mentors, recording studio projects, and travel tours are all on the agenda. Rhythmics and theory studies deepen, and repertoire continues to be multicultural, ranging from a cappella arrangements to those featuring special instrumental skills within the choirs.
Entrance in to the Bija Treble Choir is by audition or invitation.
Please call Maria Bija at (707) 695-6865 for more information or to schedule an audition meeting.
The Bija Children's Choir demonstrates its commitment to the community by:
… being a GO LOCAL Sonoma County Member and shopping/hiring locally
… donating Bija Choir Gift Certificates to local school auctions
… performing for the community several times a year at low/no ticket cost
… participating in events such as holiday tree lighting or other ceremonies
… opening our choir classroom doors to friends and family at the holidays
… holding food/clothing drives for those in need
… offering need-based scholarships to low-income students
… employing local musicians, dancers, storytellers, graphic designers
… treading gently upon the earth by using reclaimed materials for artistic fundraiser projects, and saving resources by sending choir song references & lyrics digitally via email and our website rather than using paper & cds
… teaching young people to appreciate a variety of cultural traditions, to live harmoniously on a global community level
Q: Can my child's friend who is interested in Bija Choir come to watch a class?
A: Choir student friends are welcome to come try the first class of the season or mid-season by advance request, or at our Community Holiday Classes in December. Apart from that we ask that there be no observers at weekly rehearsals in order to maintain best focus. Junior Choir parents are the exception to this rule and may stay in class to support their child as long as needed, but there must be no distractions of chatting to other parents or of managing younger siblings.
Q. My child's grandparents are visiting from out of town and can't make it to the concert-- may they come to watch the rehearsal?
A: Yes, grandparents have earned this golden privilege!
Q: My child is 5yrs old and loves to sing. Can s/he sign up for Preparatory Choir?
A: Children younger than age 6 may be added to Preparatory Choir class wait lists, but must be turning 7yrs old during the season in order to join class.
Q: Can my child move from Preparatory to Concert Choir at mid-season?
A: Based on past experience of students moving up choir groups mid-season and feeling the resulting social shifts, we feel it best to keep students in the same choir class for an entire season.
Q: Are refunds available if we run into schedule conflicts and can't attend for a few weeks or need to discontinue for some reason?
A: We are sorry, but there are NO REFUNDS or credits given for missed or discontinued choir classes unless the cancellation is on the part of the Bija Choir.
Q: Does the Director offer private voice &/or piano lessons?
A: Maria is not offering private voice & piano lessons at this time. For a list of recommended teachers in the area, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Are there any choir classes during summer break?
A: When school stops for the summer, the Bija Choir season also comes to a close. While there are no Bija Choir classes during the summer, plans are being made for international and domestic travel tours for the more advanced choir levels.
Q: I am a Bija Choir parent and I used to sing in college. Are there any Bija Choir classes for adults?
A: Yes, the Bija Choir offers an occasional Adult Vocal Workshop, often in the fall, for parents and other family members who have choir experience, to learn a handful of songs in SAT or SATB harmony to perform along side of the Bija Choirs at coming events. If you are interested in singing, do email and let us know!
BIJA CHILDREN'S CHOIR Inspiring youth & enriching community, one song at a time
A California public 501c3 nonprofit
LOVE TO SING