This instructional guide will serve as a reference in your efforts to establish, sustain, and graduate a junior choir within your parish. It is important to note that the literature to follow is only suggestions to utilise within your parish and are not a final word on how to adopt methods and practices for the betterment of your junior choir. 

  1. Introduction 
    1. What is a junior choir and what purpose does it serve? There’s not one answer that can define the answer you are looking for but an experience that awaits. A junior choir is a living, moving, and ever-changing choral group made of children and young adults whose primary experience is to learn the sacred music of our Armenian Apostolic Church, connect with fellow believers in the Almighty, and enjoy the experiences and opportunities during their time in the choir. A junior choir will serve as a method of succession planning for the church choir and also a core fundamental educational component of students or music education and the sacred music of the Armenian Apostolic Church. 
  1. Target demographic 
    1. It is important to realise that not every child or young adult would be interested in partaking within the junior choir and it is equally important to understand that forcing them through means of guilt or reward is unacceptable. There must be a musical interest in the heart of the child/young adult and that interest will be nurtured and grow within their learning within the junior choir. It is recommended that you seek youth between the age range of 7-18 so that they may understand, engage, and partake in their musical teachings. Furthermore, the core mission of the junior choir is to graduate those at the age of 18 into the adult church choir through an immersive experience so that they do not feel fractured within their matriculation. 
  1. First Steps – Collaboration is key. As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team and you are going to most definitely need a team to be successful in establishing a junior choir. 
    1. Approach your parish priest and resident church choir director and open dialogue about establishing a junior choir
    1. Create a small organizational leadership group to oversee and assist the junior choir.
      1. Recommended members: Parish Priest, Parish Council Liaison, Church Choir Director, Junior Choir Director, (2-3) Parent/Church Volunteers
    1. Secure the utilization of the parish sanctuary or designated rehearsal room for your schedule. Rehearsals should be held in a consistent physical location to create a healthy pattern and ease of access for youth.
  1. Promotion/Recruitment –   As aforementioned, each parish is different, however, we encourage you to utilize the following tools/tips to promote and recruit junior choir members.
    1. ACYO/Saturday/Sunday School
      1. If your parish has a Saturday/Sunday school or ACYO, it is important to immediately connect with the principal/superintendent/chairman and have a physical meeting where you can share the news and find ways to build relations for recruitment as well as future collaborations. This is the primary resource in which you should consistently follow-through and cultivate relations with students, parents/guardians, and teachers.
    1. Local Armenian-School
      1. If your parish is in close proximity to a local Armenian school, we encourage you to schedule a meeting with the respective director/principal and inform them of your junior choir initiatives as well as your church activities. If your parish priest has existing relations with the school board, seek your parish priest’s support!
    1. Congregation
      1. Create and design flyers that have your parish name, contact information, and brief literature about the junior choir and your rehearsal dates/times. It is important to keep the flyer at a third-grade level to ensure accessibility for all demographics.
      1. Ask your parish priest to allow you to speak before the weekly sermon with some brief remarks about the junior choir and your current activities. If your members can be present and sing a hymn you will be able to offer them a live demonstration of what you are working towards within your parish. 
      1. Create a booth/place a table before and after services once a month with fellow junior choir members to promote and provide further information about your junior choir and the activities that you are pursuing. Furthermore, place succinct informational pamphlets within the pews.
  • Junior Choir: Auditions, Rehearsals, Curriculum, Music Theory, Liturgical Singing
    • Auditions: This junior choir is comprised of young faithful who wish to sing and pray and therefore there will be no auditions. 
    • Rehearsals:
      • Establish a clear and defined schedule with room location, dates, and times. This document will be your guiding principle throughout the year. It should always be kept up to date and youth, parents/guardians, and parish contacts must be notified immediately of any changes.
        • It is recommended that rehearsals be held on either weekday afternoons or Saturday’s in the early afternoon for no more than an hour at a time. As students of academia, they have rigorous schooling and personal routines and their junior choir schedule should not intercede or impact their schooling or academic schedules.
        • Provide a monthly agenda to your junior choir members with a clear and defined agenda of what instruction will take place during your rehearsals. They must be privy to what is taking place, so they too are organized and prepared to partake in rehearsals. 
        • Schedule a monthly/bi-weekly visit by your parish priest to partake in rehearsals and provide words of encouragement on their educational journey. 
        • Designate one rehearsal a month to hold an activity. Remember, they are here to establish their love for sacred music while enjoying their time with fellow peers. We want to encourage a loving environment filled with solid instruction and social activities.
      • Retain an accompanist to play during rehearsals. The junior choir director will not be able to handle both instruction and accompaniment. You must ensure that you have a dedicated colleague to assist with all junior choir activities. Furthermore, designate one rehearsal a month where the church choir organist will play for your choir. In turn, they will be able to understand and differentiate any musical mannerisms during practice and not during the singing of the Divine Liturgy.
      • Best Vocal Practices
        • It is important to note the various vocal types within your choir from the beginning and continuously monitor and adjust as needed to ensure peak vocal health.  Do not enforce any bad vocal habits as you may directly result in vocal damage. (E.G. straining notes, yelling/shouting, vocal parts that are too high/low, repetitive difficult passages)
        • You must always conduct vocal warmups before practicing music. These may include but are not limited to: lip buzz/trills, solfege (do,re,mi), vocal exercises (MI-MA-MOO; Sirens (sliding scales). 
        • Stretching of the body to ensure loose muscles. They should not be physically stressed before singing.
        • Physical posture. Feet firmly placed on the ground, proper back posture, and in a relaxed manner proper for singing.
        • Practice pitch within a two-octave range to ensure proper knowledge of relevant notes. This will especially come in hand during acapella pieces.
        • The AACCWD recommends singing the Divine Liturgy in D MAJOR with appropriate vocal parts per voice type. Should D MAJOR still be too high, then utilize the score in C MAJOR (MELODY LINE).
        • The Divine Liturgy is a celebration and it should be sung in the similar manner. There is a time and place for musical expression, but the Liturgy should be sung in a moving manner.
    • Curriculum:
      • You should be able to learn, rehearse, and sing one sharagan a month. It is important to cultivate the appropriate expressions, pitch, intonations, and melody/harmony for each hymn. Do not rush their learning.
      • For each sharagan, you must clearly dictate the words as well as the translation so that they are aware of the context of the hymn in which they are singing.
      • For each sharagan, you must clearly sing the melody and add harmony when necessary before rehearsing.
      • We recommend that you first and foremost cover the core sharagans of the Divine Liturgy before embarking on jashoo sharagans, zhamamoots, and other variable hymns of the Armenian Apostolic church.
      • You must educate the youth on the liturgical calendar year and also provide clear examples of how each Sunday has its own respective music and how it moves from one day to another. 
      • Provide copies of each hymn during every rehearsal with the accompanying transliteration, translation, and any musical markings that you identify during your rehearsals.
      • Provide an audio-track to your junior choir members of the rehearsals as well as the hymn which they are learning to provide proper practice and training when they are not at rehearsal. 
      • Be flexible. Certain hymns are lengthier than others and have more cumbersome melodies/harmonies. Take your time with your instruction and spread it out over the course of two months to ensure proper adherence to the composition as well as the delivery of the sharagan.
    • Music Theory:
      • It is imperative that before you embark on learning the hymns of the Armenian Apostolic Church that you educate junior choir members on the principle fundamentals of music theory. Below are some recommended fundamentals (not necessarily limited to):
        • Melody
        • Notation
        • Rhythm
        • Counterpoint
        • Dynamic/Harmony
        • Form
        • Scales/Modes
        • Intervals
        • Consonance/Dissonance
        • Pitch
        • Ornamentation
        • Composition
        • Performance
        • Articulation
        • Verbiage/Acronyms
    • Liturgical Singing
      • Designate one Sunday every two months where your junior choir will sing selected sharagans from the Divine Liturgy during church services. During this time, the church choir should solely sing in harmony with the junior choir taking the melodic line as well as any harmonies which they have learned. 
      • Encourage them with affirmation regardless of delivery as they are there as fellow believers in Christ and the Almighty and they are serving the Lord and our Armenian Apostolic Church with their vocal talent, time, participation, and love.
      • Take notes during Sunday performances so that you may further rehearse any areas that may be needing improvement. 
      • After services, hold a thirty-minute rehearsal with the church choir and focus on hymns that they have learned so that they may fully have an understanding of how it is sung in a larger/more-established settings. Furthermore, have a social reception with choir members, deacons, and the parish priest to ensure proper acclimation to the individuals who serve their church. 

Again, this document is a living framework based upon personal and witnessed methods as it pertains to junior choirs. All revisions will be clearly marked with document version control. As of Sunday March 3, 2019, this is Version I. 

Author: Sevag Derderian – AACCWD Chairman