One of my first responsibilities when I went on staff at The Special Gathering  almost 20 years ago was to direct a choir.  We had no money.  Therefore, there was no way to buy music or equipment.  While I’ve had extensive music background, I am a terrible pianist and there was no one to play any instruments.  (I have taught people to direct choirs who have only a little musical background.)

Therefore, I began to improvise.  First, I had a pianist friend tape some songs.  I remember trying to get my extremely bad tape recorder to record a decent sound track.  I ended up recording from the bottom of the piano.  I sat under the piano and held the microphone close but not touching the bottom of the piano.  It worked.

Later, I discovered Maranatha Double Praise CD’s.  Most of the songs have two tracks.  First, there was a track with singer.  Then the same sound track with the melody played by a lead instrument.  These were wonderful and gave me a great deal of flexibility. 

Several things I learned quickly.  1)  The choir must be a discipled effort on the part of the choir members and the director.  Be sure that you know the music back and front.  Know when to come in and when to stop.  2)  Choral directions are vital for a mentally challenged choir.  Don’t stand with your hands to the side.  Use your hand, your mouth, anything you can to get the choir members to understand your directions.  Several directors have devised signs for each word.  They sign the words for their choir.  I have so little eye-hand-coordination that I have never been able to pull that off.

However, I do mouth the words to my choir and beat out rythym of the music like most directors do.  I improvised simple signs that work to help me clearly tell each choir member if he/she is  singing too loud and when to come in and stop singing.  My sign for the choir not the sing is a closed fist.  If one person is to stop singing or comes in incorrectly, I put my closed fist in front of him, signaling that he is to not sing.

 In mouthing the words, I try to pick songs that have rests between each musical phrase.  In this way, I can mouth the words before they sing.   I try to choose songs that have simple lyrics that are repeated several times.  For example, the first song we did in this manner was “Lord, You are So Precious to Me.”  The words are “Lord, You are so precious to me and I love You.  Yes, I love You because You first loved me.” 

The choir learned the song in the first practice.  They were excited.  There was orchastration and they choir sounded great. 

 Are there some tricks that you have learned in directing persons with developmental disabilities in a choir?  How important do you think first impressions are?