As we continue to invest in younger and younger students, YAA has created a YAAjunior program for fifth to eighth graders interested in the performing arts. We sat down to speak with the Director of YAAjunior, Paul Heinemann about what it's like to work with middle school students, what he strives for as a teacher, and what he loves about The Sound of Music, our Fall Production.
As a teacher, what's it like to work with middle school students versus high school in terms of getting started a bit earlier with a choral program?
With the middle school program, you have more of a mixed bag of experience. Some come in with a full repertoire of experience. Some have been singing in school. They know how to read music a little bit. They've been singing in harmony. They know how to sing with a musical theater voice versus a choral sound. Others have a bigger learning curve. They've never read music before, and everything they've sung is by rote. They only know how to sing in their head voice sound. So the challenge is balancing the different levels in one room.
Do you have to be careful or selective about how you work with younger voices in terms of trying to protect them?
All kids will go through puberty during this age group. So You want to be really careful with their voices at this age. Really in middle school, before they hit puberty, the two things you want to focus on is learning how to sing with proper breath support, and creating a space for the sound to come out. That's what kids can start right away-- learning proper technique.
And teaching musicality. That something that can span across all ages. How do you sing a phrase? How do you tell a story and bring up emotion? How do you color your voice a little differently to add different emotions or certain sounds that you want to use to affect what you're singing about? Those are things that this age can really work on.
Once they get through puberty and get their bigger voices, then they can work more on specific technique like expanding their range and vibrato. Things like that. But those are things you don't want too push at this age.
What types of material do you recommend the middle school students work on outside of the classroom or YAA rehearsal?
Finding the shows that match your age. Singing the songs from Annie or the Disney musicals. Songs that are sung by kids are likely going to be written in a range that's appropriate for that age. So start filling your book with more repertoire.
The other thing is vocalizing, singing scales. The do re mi scale Julie Andrews teaches the kids in Sound of Music will help you learn control and how you place notes.
What's it like working with this particular age group on this musical, The Sound of Music.
They relate to it so well. It's kid singing! So they get really really excited about it. Most of the kids have seen the movie. And those who hadn't watched the movie before...they came back to the second rehearsal having watched it because they got excited hearing about it from the other kids.
Why do you like working with middle school students? What draws you to this age group?
I found my wheelhouse teaching middle school. Where students start in sixth grade to where they leave in eighth grade, there is such an emotional development that occurs in those three years. I don't think people, in general, mature so much emotionally and socially in any other three-year period of their entire life. So to have a hand in that, just to be able to change some of that character when they're starting to become young adults is what really attracts me to middle school.
I really relate to them. I have an immature humor side (laughs), and I think I just have a connection with them. I develop trust with them, and then they allow me to impart knowledge that helps develop their character and to grow musically.
If you're child is in middle school and is interested in the performing arts, we encourage you to learn more about our YAAjunior program here. Starting early is always a good idea!