Foreign Language Repertoire Selection Practices by Middle Level Choral Directors

September 23, 2008 / By: Sarah Beth O'Banion

The problem of this research was to investigate the foreign language repertoire selection practices of middle level choral conductors.  Sub-problems of the study sought to answer questions related to (1) the percentage of foreign language pieces programmed; (2) the specific languages programmed; (3) the role of repertoire in the curriculum; (4) audience preference and reaction; (5) student preference and reaction; (6) director preference; (7) consideration of language and text related factors; (8) use of resources; (9) factors that would prevent directors from programming foreign languages; and (10) potential impact on students’ view of other cultures.

A forty-four-item survey instrument was developed based on the ten sub-problems of this thesis and formatted using an online survey service.  A link to the survey was e-mailed to 250 middle level choral conductors throughout the state of Minnesota.  Usable data were collected from 107 choral directors in non-charter public schools.

Results of the survey revealed that foreign language repertoire is a valued part of the middle level curriculum; ninety-eight percent of those surveyed reported programming non-English pieces in the past year.   The average percent of pieces performed in foreign languages was 25.6 percent, with Latin, African Tribal, Spanish, and Hebrew being indicated as the most commonly chosen languages for middle level students.

The majority (70.1 percent) of the directors surveyed consider audience preference only some of the time and believe it is their job to help develop the musical taste of the audience members.  Similarly, 68.2 percent of the teachers consider student preference only some of the time and most program music they believe that their students will grow to like more often than they include pieces their students will like immediately.  Ninety-seven percent of the conductors indicated they enjoy teaching foreign languages and 86.4 percent reported taking their own preferences into consideration some of the time or most of the time when choosing repertoire.  A large majority (92.5 percent) of the directors expressed the belief that performing choral works in the original language is important. 

The amount of rehearsal time required to teach non-English texts surfaced as the most important factor that middle level choral educators consider when choosing foreign language literature.  Lack of time was the reason named most likely to prevent directors from selecting a non-English composition.  Participants reported that the most useful aids for teaching foreign language repertoire are recordings and the assistance of language experts.  Nearly 100 percent of the respondents noted that it is important for students to learn music in other languages and from cultures other than their own.