Susan Berce counted down as a group of 38 eager third-graders at East Kelloggsville Elementary scrambled to pitch their trash after lunch. While other students were heading to recess, this group stayed put and returned to their seats in this music room, where they eat lunch every Tuesday as members of the school’s newly formed choir.
They got into the rhythm with a little body percussion: Boom snap clap, ba-boom snap clap. Boom snap clap… Then they pulled out their sheet music and Berce accompanied and directed them through “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“These kids can sing and they love to sing,” said Berce, who teaches kindergarten through third grade music at East and West Kelloggsville elementary schools. She recently began extracurricular choirs at both schools. Participation is voluntary, and choir members need parental permission to join. Each student signed a contract commiting to sing during one lunch and one recess every week.
A Little Time, a Big Vision
Elementary school choir has long been a vision for Berce, who has spent her career in Kelloggsville. In the six years she has taught music, Berce hasn’t had time in her schedule to direct a choir until this year, when burgeoning enrollment allowed the district to add more staff. When asked what she might do with the little extra time in her day, she said she did not hesitate: she wanted to start a choir. Students didn’t hesitate, either: more than half of the roughly 70 third-graders at East Kelloggsville joined.
So why do it at lunch? Many districts with thriving choirs meet after school, but that wasn’t realistic for Berce if she wanted participants.
“(Parents) work hard, they have jobs that they have to be at — we don’t have that flexibility to keep kids after school,” said Berce. “Lunch seemed the obvious choice.
If the excitement on their faces and the passion in their voices are any indication, that choice is working out well.
“I prefer to sing than go outside and play,” said Kiana Chenh, who says she has been singing since she was 4. While she’s a little shy about solos, she has found her niche in choir: “I like to sing in a big group.”
On Fire for Choir
When asked about their favorite choir song, the verdict from Kiana and choirmates Jacob Mejia, Dakota Patz, Lyla Rubio, Ty’yon Burress, and Heaven Sloan was nearly unanimous: Carrie Underwood’s “The Champion.
“The excitement that they have for the music we’re singing, the excitement that they have to learn how to sing properly… that’s something we don’t get to a lot in elementary music where we’re preparing for shows, we’re trying to accomplish state standards,” said Berce.
“Choir is really just about learning to sing, and learning to sing in the most beautiful way possible. I get to teach them things that I don’t get to teach during the regular music day, and they’re very excited about it.”
Soon, choir members will get some time in the spotlight. They will sing with the high school choir for an assembly around Christmas, perform the national anthem before the West Michigan Whitecaps’ baseball game on April 17, and will do a spring concert, as well.