Ohio choirs try boys-only middle school approach

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Adolescence can be nerve-jarring for any youngster, and maybe more so for the middle school boy singing in the choir and having his voice crack.

"The middle school male changing voice is tricky," said Jeff Rone, director of choirs at Westland High School, who works with Norton Middle School boys twice a week.

"You have to show that the tough-guy macho voice is one you don't necessarily use in choir."

One singer, Davionn Johnson, turned down invitations for weeks from friends and Norton's music teacher to join choir.

He sang to his friends in the cafeteria or at track meets, but doing it for school wasn't for him. Then he was called to the auditorium where the entire 60-member choir gathered for one last push.

"They all said, 'Davionn, please join choir next year'," teacher Coventry Pompili told The Columbus Dispatch (bit.ly/SpjhJa). "And I wouldn't let him go back to study hall until he said yes."

Choir directors often have to make the hard sell to attract middle-school boys, recruiting, creating boys-only choirs and bringing in male teachers to work with them.

It's a big challenge, said Scott Dorsey, spokesman for the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City.

"At that point in a young person's life, who are the major idols?" he said. "They are going to be sports figures. That's seen as a manly, masculine activity. Singing is not."

Educators say boys worry about belting tunes in front of peers and looking awkward in front of girls, particularly when their voices crack.

But studies have found that boys who sing before and during voice changes tend to have stronger vocal muscles and a greater voice range than those who don't.

Some schools have divided middle-school choir programs by gender to provide a comfortable setting where boys can sing without fear.

Heather Chute, choir director at the suburban Hamilton Local district's middle and high schools, found that, by dividing the middle-school choir by gender, girls developed their voices quicker and boys picked up lessons faster.

Chute said fellowship boosted the boys' confidence levels, and as a result, they were more willing to try songs outside of their comfort level.

"It's a safe place for them," said Mark Yoder, director of the choir programs at Lakeview Junior High School in Pickerington.

Davionn was touched by the choir's invitation and discovered that the class wasn't what he expected. He's enjoyed singing and isn't worried anyone will laugh if his voice cracks.

Does he feel nervous singing in front of girls? "They're nervous singing in front of us," he said

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com