March Greetings! Spring is on it’s way. I know it can be hard to look ahead to plan for the fall but school and parent calendars are always 6 to 9 months ahead so we have to be as well.

With that in mind, are you looking for an out-of-the-box beginning of the year retreat idea that will help set the tone for your choir year? Here’s something you could try – an overnight retreat at the church. This activity comes from a high school choral director in Minnesota, Steve Albaugh.I have not personally done this retreat but in talking to him about retreat activities, he sites this activity as one of the best experiences for his singers. It is something I would love to do with my singers.

The retreat begins at 4:00pm and ends at 6:00am…yes, that’s 6 o’clock in the morning!Having an overnight at the church would be similar to a youth lock-in but the focus would be on singing and choir. Here’s the fun part.Everyone stays awake all night and there are activities to keep everyone moving. Just wait until you see how the retreat ends and the reason why the singers want to do this event every year.

Here’s what you will need:

1. Guest motivational speaker/clinician. Bring in a colleague that has done motivational speaking and clinics for youth choirs. This person’s time is usually a three-hour window running from around 7:30 – 10:30 or 11:00pm. If you have a theme planned for the year, give the title to your speaker so he or she can incorporate it into the clinic sessions.

2. Two or 3 section leaders. These could be former students or colleagues. The section leaders will be done by 12:00am (midnight). Ask them to stay to monitor the kiddos.

3. Four different areas for sectionals with a piano.If people and places for sectionals are a concern, you can split the singers into 2 groups instead of four or 3 groups i.e. sopranos, altos and men.

4. Parents chaperones to sign up for 4 hour shifts

a. to assist with food – supper, snacks and breakfast;

b. to judge lip synching competition.

5. Party City – see below.

Here’s a sample schedule of how this retreat works.

4:00pm   Everyone gathers to sight-read through 3 to 4 new pieces of music for the fall.No expectations of brilliance, just to give the singers a sense of where they are beginning.

4:20pm   Everyone into sectionals.You can run a sectional or not.Personally, I like to float between groups to listen and make sure everyone is working.

5:15pm   Supper.Bring in pizza.It’s easy and fast.

6:00pm  “Getting to know you” game.

6:45pm   Sectional rehearsals

7:30pm   15-minute break

7:45pm   Guest speaker/clinician

9:00pm   Sectional rehearsals

9:45pm   15-minute break

10:00pm  Guest speaker/clinician wrap up

10:45pm  Fun active game

12:00am  No more singing for the night

Here’s where the fun starts. The choir will make a music video.

  • 1. Each choir section gets a different pop song.You can choose the songs or you can ask your senior leadership to assist you. Ultimately, you make the final decision.
  • 2.Each section work together to create a choreographed lip sync to the song. Make sure you outline some guidelines like no inappropriate moves. I always tell my singers, “Are you able to perform this for your grandmother? What would she think?”
  • 3.Start the process around 1:00am and the final performance is somewhere around 3:00am.
  • 4.Video each performance.
  • 5.Judges are the parent chaperones for that shift and two recent grads (1 male and 1 female) to come back in and judge.
  • 6.Go to Party City (or similar store) and get silly gifts for all the sections as well as awards for “best performance by a male, best performance by a female” and/or other awards you’d like to give.

4:30am   Gather belongings…

5:00am   Breakfast

5:30 – 6:00am   Home…to bed!

Observations from my colleague Steve Albaugh who has done this activity with his high school singers every year for 14 years. “It’s pretty amazing to see how sections work together at 3:00am. It’s such a learning moment for them moving forward into the year. The students have a BLAST and the competition gets rather intense. This activity is work and can be exhausting BUT – the positives far outweigh the negatives when you are starting a new school year.”

I can just imagine how each section gears up every year to win this competition. What fun you will have watching the music video after a rehearsal or during a party later on that year.

Many thanks to Steve Albaugh, Rosemount High School, Rosemount, MN