Senior High Choirs

Redesigning the Final Exam for High School Choir

For those of us who have early spring concerts, we’re often tasked with finding lessons and activities to keep our students occupied toward the end of the year. This can be challenging for a myriad of reasons, and for those of us with longer blocks of time (eighty minutes or more), we have to be especially creative. This year, I’m building with the end in mind.

At the ACDA East conference in Providence, I presented a reading session that was focused on group assessment in the choral classroom. I shared resources and rubrics where students could self-assess where they were based on the goal of the group assignment. Some assignments were based on rehearsing a piece, others tasks were based on creating new verses or improvising melodies. As I think about the end of the year, I want to design a final exam that reflects all (or most) of the skills that my students have improved at throughout the year. This could include:

  1. Confident Singing and Vocal Technique
  2. Part Independence
  3. Musical Literacy
  4. Vocal Improvisation
  5. Rehearsal and Practice Strategies
  6. Collaboration and Problem Solving

I decided to give my choir one final performance task.


  1. In the classes leading up to the final, build capacity in the classroom culture where students can work together to learn a new piece on solfege. This includes reviewing rehearsal or practice strategies.
  2. Give students a new piece (or a section of a piece) in multiple parts that they can learn entirely on solfege. You may offer them opportunities to listen to the piece, or tell them that they must only use what is on the page. 
  3. They could have the final day of class to be introduced to the song, and use the final exam period to work together to learn the parts, rehearse together, and perform the final product.
  4. Students could help design the rubric of how they want to be assessed. What do you want the final product to look like?
  5. This song could also have opportunities for improvisation or “zipper” songs out of the Justice Choir Songbook where students can work together to design new verses, improvise melodies, or make decisions about formal design of the performance.

Here are some pieces that work well with this kind of assessment:

Hold Me, Rock Me – Brian Tate (Pavane Publishing)
Frobisher Bay – James Gordon arr. Diane Loomer (Cypress Publishing)
Courage to Be Who We Are – Ruth Huber (Justice Choir Songbook)
Be The Change – Marc Caplin and Colin Britt (Justice Choir Songbook)
We Remember Them – Susan LaBarr (Walton Publishing)
Easy on the Earth (Sons and Daughters) – arr. Luke Wallace and Shawn Kirschner (SK Publishing)
Wild Mountain Thyme – arr. Jacob Narverud (JN Music Publishing)
Hope Lingers On – Lissa Schneckenburger arr. Andrea Ramsay (MusicSpoke Publishing)
Why We Sing – Greg Gilpin (Shawnee Press)
When the Earth Stands Still – Don MacDonald (Galaxy Music)
In Time of Silver Rain – Sarah Quartel (Oxford University Press)
Journey On – Derrick Fox (Hal Leonard)

William Dunn serves ACDA Eastern Region as the Senior High School R & R Chair. He can be reached at