Directors' Opinions Regarding Gender-Based Middle School Choirs

April 26, 2010 / By: Scott M. Lehrke

The intent of this thesis was to determine directors’ physiological, sociological, and pedagogical rationales for gender-based middle school choirs. Four sub-questions addressing issues frequently cited in relation to single-gender choirs were examined: (1) What physiological male/female differences are manifest in middle school education that impact lesson and rehearsal planning and warrant single-gender choir experiences?  (2) What opportunities for differentiated teaching do gender-based choirs provide?  (3) To what extent do gender-based choral programs affect enrollment in middle school choirs?  (4) What are directors’ observations of classroom environment in gender-specific middle school choirs as contrasted with mixed choirs?

One hundred members of the American Choral Directors’ Association of Minnesota who teach middle school choir were invited to complete an online survey. Of sixty directors who responded, 56 fully completed useable surveys. Each survey contained nine demographic questions followed by fourteen forced-choice Likert-type responses to statements addressing physiological, pedagogical, and sociological issues related to gender-based middle school choirs. Survey results are displayed through a series of bar graphs in chapter four; each bar graph represents the responses to an individual survey question or statement.

Consistent with previous research and literature, survey results indicated clear levels of agreement with statements in support of single-gender choral music education. Directors agree that adolescent girls and boys have different educational needs, which are affected by differing physiological development. As a result, directors agree about the importance of differentiated teaching to address kinesthetic activity, vocal technique, and repertoire requirements unique to girls and boys. Directors recognize the benefits of single-gender ensembles in maintaining or increasing choral enrollment for both boys and girls, agreeing that single-gender ensembles are more effective in this regard than mixed-gender ensembles. When responding to statements about classroom environment and behavior including discipline issues, student confidence, and student focus, directors agreed each time that gender-based ensembles have more positive impact than mixed ensembles. Despite all the agreement with single-gender choirs’ impact on student experience, however, nearly twice as many middle school directors report teaching mixed choirs as female-only choirs, and over twice as many directors teach mixed choirs as male-only choirs.

Findings of the survey revealed a disparity between philosophy and practice. Although the vast majority of directors agree with and support many benefits of single-gender middle school choirs, mixed choirs continue to significantly outnumber single-gender choirs. This gap, nevertheless, reflects the trend, particularly in the recent professional literature that advocates for and supports the transition from mixed to gender-based middle school choirs.