This week, I've got my head wrapped around singing! Because I've got my middle school choir singing at Concordia University this Thursday for L.E.S.T adjudications, AND I'm preparing 3 of my vocal students for a recording session at Beehive Sound in March, my week has been taken up with practicing accompaniment tracks and putting together practice videos for my students. So, this week, I thought I'd take the time to review one of my favorite vocal books: the Kids' Musical Theatre Anthology, edited and compiled by Lisa DeSpain.
I love this book for several reasons: 1. It is age appropriate- both in terms of vocal range capability (especially for young boys), and in material. 2. There are real world applications for these pieces- they tend to be popular kids shows which are done fairly regularly, so kids can use them for auditions. 3. They also include a brief synopsis of the show that the song is from allowing it to be put in perspective, AND have recommended 16 bar audition cuts. 4. The accompaniments are REAL accompaniments- not simplified vocal duplications, PLUS if you're not a pianist, there is a CD available.
Here are some of my personal favorite songs to teach (and to perform myself!):
Alone in the Universe- from Seussical
Alone in the Universe starts out being sung by Horton (who is traditionally an adult), but is then echoed by Jojo (traditionally a young boy). It begins with a descending chromatic recitative (which allows you to practice half steps, and explain the difference between a recititive and an aria). It does change keys 3 times- the recititive begins in E-flat, Horton's solo is in C, and when Jojo comes in it's D-flat- so the two solos are in a similar key, which makes me feel comfortable doing this song with a young boy. It also has many opportunities for tempo adjustments- rubato, and accelerando, so kids can begin to play with vocal phrasing. It's just a beautiful song, with many different elements and opportunities to shine. While this is traditionally a boy song, I have had at least one girl sing it, and it works well in the female register as well- obviously singing up the octave.
Be Kind to Your Parents- from Fanny
This is a great song for that kid who loves to ham it up! This is written for a young boy (around 12-ish), but is again a good range and appropriate for a girl. It begins with a short recititive, and then into the song. This song is pretty fast, so the accompaniment can be difficult- especially if you're still singing with your young singer, but again with the right singer who's going to embrace the comedy, this is a great choice!
Consider Yourself- from Oliver
I wish they had included Where is Love (Oliver) and As Long as He Needs Me (Nancy) as well, but I suppose some cuts needed to be made :). Consider Yourself is sung by the Artful Dodger- traditionally an adolescent boy, although I've seen several cross-gender productions- I have had one female student play Oliver. As one of the older, standard kid shows, Oliver is done A LOT! If you have a boy in particular expressing an interest in musical theatre, this is a great song to learn. It's extremely repetitive, and allows students to experiment with a different (cockney) accents.
Different- from Honk!
Honk! Is the ugly duckling story told in the form of a musical- it's extremely kid friendly. This is a great song to work on the idea of phrasing and using the singing voice to communicate- it's very conversational without being just straight up patter. Emotionally, this is a good piece for that student who is struggling with their own identity. Different is a good range for all voices.
The Girl I Mean to Be- from The Secret Garden
I LOVE THIS SONG! It is one of my favorites to do with young female singers. It's sung by Mary, the young girl who lost her parents and has just moved in with her strange and unknown uncle. Vocally, it's an ABA form, so it's repetitive- especially in the A section. The B section allows the singer to explore the upper register, and longer note values, all while experimenting with dynamic shading. Emotionally, I also think this is one that most young girls can relate to- the idea of finding a special place, and exploring your daydreams and hopes for the future. This song comes out a lot in my studio.
Good Morning- from Singing in the Rain
This is another song I love. I sing this song to my son every morning- my three year old can sing a large chunk of this song at this point. :). While this is one of my favorite movie musicals, I am not aware of this musical actually happening on stage. However, the stage musical version must exist SOMEWHERE because the opening of this song is quite a bit different than the movie. It has a vocal introduction before going into the familiar "Good morning, Good morning..." chorus. Then, there are the two verses, and repeat the chorus. It's a fun song to sing and it's repetitive so easy to memorize. It's a great choice for your more energetic female singers.
Green Eggs and Ham- from Seussical
This song is appropriate for all voices, and is a great way to work on diction and clarity of words. It changes keys a ZILLION TIMES, and is not easy to play and sing at the same time (the key changes are difficult, and they are not easy keys to play in to begin with!). I highly recommend working with the CD at least to start with. My experience has been that I need to vocally lead the student with the accompaniment when they start out, and while I am usually quite comfortable playing and singing, this one was a struggle for me. HOWEVER... this song is fun, upbeat, and uses familiar text which makes it a great choice for the kids.
I Want it Now- from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I have only done this song once... you need to have the kid with the right personality to pull this song off! That being said, with a bold courageous student, this is a great piece! There are some large skips, lots of accidentals, and extremely long phrases where there is no place to breathe, which make this song difficult. There are some surprise entrances, key changes, and tempo/character changes which also make this song tricky. Again, with the right personality, this song is really fun, exciting, familiar, and the crowd loved it the one time I had a student sing this. I would do it again with the right kid!
It's Possible- from Seussical
.Lots of Seussical in this book... :). It's Possible is sung by Jojo, the imaginative son of the Mayor of Whoville. It is a super cute song for a young boy. For my studio, I have cut out measures 39-48 (the Beach Boys/harmony part). The song never changes key, but does build via crescendo and accelerando.
Johnny One Note- from Babes in Arms
This is a great song for those "pitch challenged" students. You can work on centering just that one pitch and using it with different words, different vowel shapes, and hearing the different octaves. And even though you can approach it in simplistic terms, the song is not simple! The range is somewhat high, the rhythm is syncopated, and there are several different sections. You start out with a vocal introduction, go into the main theme ("Poor Johnny one note..."), then you have a B section ("couldn't hear the brass..), back to the main theme, then eventually there is a C section ("cats and dogs stop yapping..."). This song has been covered by no less than Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland, so there is plenty in this song to sink your teeth into while working on basic concepts such as centering pitches.
Part of Your World- from the Little Mermaid
I have many fond memories of singing this into a tape recorder with my little sister when this movie and soundtrack came out. I love to teach this song, just because I love this song! The piano accompaniment is GREAT, and there are several notes in the music that don't exist in the soundtrack, so this is a great opportunity to allow your girls to practice being independent from the recording! I have taught this song so much that I have put together a rehearsal video for my girls- it's not perfect, but it's helpful for them, so feel free to check it out:
Pure Imagination- from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I just love doing this song myself. I have never worked on it with a student, it's just a favorite of mine that I've pulled out several times to perform. It has some large skips and surprising non-chord tones in the accompaniment which make this a difficult song. It is familiar, with a beautiful lyric line.
Wouldn't it be Loverly- from My Fair Lady
Sung by Eliza Doolittle the young orphan who is "classed up" by Henry Higgins, this is a great song for a young girl to practice the cockney accent, find the nasal voice, and assume a new character. One of the things I work on with my kids is keeping the low notes light as it tends to bounce down and back up in phrases such as "all I want is a room..." "is" is high, "a" is low, and "room" is high again, so we need to practice lightly jumping down to "a" and back up again- this is somewhat difficult, and even though there are many fast moving notes, girls still get to practice long high notes in the "wouldn't it be loverly" part. And, it includes words like "abso-bloomin'-lutely". A total win!
This book includes 22 songs total, and some other great ones including music from The Lion King (I Can't Wait to Be King), Finding Nemo (In the Big Blue World), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious), and Mary Poppins (Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious) if you're into Disney musicals, plus other standard musicals like Once Upon a Mattress (Shy), and Damn Yankees (Heart). I just reviewed the ones that my student's have had success with and that I pull out regularly. This is a great book to own if you're a vocal teacher with many young students, I highly recommend it! You can find it on sheetmusicplus.com via the below affiliate link.
Thank you so much for reading! Now, go practice!
is a professional pianist, teacher, singer, and Music Director currently residing in Snohomish, Washington. She is the Director of Music at Peace Lutheran Church in Monroe, WA, and also teaches private piano, voice and ukulele lessons at The ARK in Snohomish, WA.