CNMN > Projects > VIVA Singers Toronto: A Community Choir Program Connects Virtually

Edmee Nataprawira

  • Found objects or art supplies
  • Voice
  • Early childhood
  • 5 to 12 years of age

One rehearsal to a full school year

  • Education
  • Community associations

VIVA Singers Toronto: A Community Choir Program Connects Virtually


In this project, music edu­ca­tor Edmee Nat­aprawira and her stu­dents in the Prep Choir of VIVA Singers Toron­to build com­mu­ni­ty vir­tu­al­ly through cre­ative singing and music making: 

Hi, my name is Edmee Nat­aprawira. I use she/her pro­nouns. I live and teach in Toron­to, Ontario.

My stu­dents are in the Prep Choir, the youngest divi­sion of singers at VIVA Singers Toron­to. Though a small group this year, we come from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds, with diverse gen­der iden­ti­ties, cul­tur­al her­itages, needs, and strengths. For the past two years, we had a ful­ly online sea­son due to the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic. We are look­ing for­ward to mak­ing music in-per­son again, start­ing next sea­son. For most of the stu­dents in the Prep Choir, VIVA is their first expe­ri­ence mak­ing music with oth­ers in an ensem­ble setting. 

Our pro­gram includes the inte­gra­tion of cre­ative music-mak­ing and com­po­si­tion with the devel­op­ment of choral per­for­mance skills. We sing a vari­ety of reper­toire, often work­ing close­ly with guest artists — like Suba Sankaran and Autorick­shaw in our most recent sea­son. New to the VIVA pro­gram is our Cre­ation Stream, which builds com­po­si­tion skills through a vari­ety of medi­ums. The fol­low­ing are two activ­i­ties we use in the Cre­ation Stream: 

Cre­ation Stream

  1. Start­ing well with pre-school vir­tu­al choir: This is an activ­i­ty that high­lights how we often begin our rehearsals. The goal is to set the tone for stu­dent cre­ation and to encour­age stu­dents to hold expan­sive def­i­n­i­tions of music, so that they see that music is every­where. Using found objects from their home envi­ron­ment, stu­dents explore and share per­cus­sive sounds. They then inte­grate their sounds into the B Sec­tion of our wel­come song. View video below or see this link.
  2. A cre­ative approach to teach­ing choral reper­toire: This is anoth­er exer­cise that demon­strates a cre­ative approach to teach­ing choral reper­toire. We had been work­ing on the tune “Don’t Wor­ry Be Hap­py” in prepa­ra­tion for the spring con­cert; in this video, we are cre­at­ing a coda for the song. The video shows the kids mak­ing con­nec­tions to things that make them hap­py in their own lives. We then draw out key words from these per­son­al con­nec­tions and use rep­e­ti­tion to cre­ate rhyth­mic pat­terns, speak­ing the words before apply­ing them to our found instru­ments. The stu­dents then use rhythm syl­la­bles to notate their cre­ations and lat­er explored com­pos­ing short melodies as well. 

Suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion?

Click here to view video or read on for transcription.

Tran­scrip­tion: “What is a suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion? I asked my stu­dents at Viva Singers Toron­to in the prepara­to­ry choirs, the youngest singers, what they real­ly love about choir or what they real­ly love about music. Three major themes came out: singing, instru­ments and happiness. 

  1. Singing: The first came as no sur­prise that the stu­dent said that they loved to sing in choir. Singing is the main medi­um through which we make music and so it’s real­ly what we’re doing most of the time when we’re rehearsing. 
  2. Instru­ments: The sec­ond is a lit­tle more lay­ered and a num­ber of stu­dents brought up that they real­ly like play­ing instru­ments. The instru­ment that came up a lot was piano, specif­i­cal­ly pri­vate piano lessons tak­en out­side of choir time and out­side of school time. I do want to note that dur­ing choir prac­tice, we often incor­po­rate found instru­ments such as tin cans, soap box­es, paper tow­el rolls, Kleenex box­es, all sorts of found unpitched per­cus­sion. I also want­ed to note that those found objects were also part of this category. 
  3. Hap­pi­ness: Third, although sim­ple, I think this is the heart of music edu­ca­tion. The kids said that choir makes them feel hap­py, that they feel hap­py when they are singing. I think that is the core of what suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion is. 

For me, in reflect­ing on that ques­tion on that prompt, three major themes came up as well. com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion, process ori­ent­ed prac­tice and a life­time prac­tice.

  1. Com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion: The first, com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion, for me is all about how music mak­ing, espe­cial­ly music mak­ing in an ensem­ble, so in choir or in class, you’re with oth­er peo­ple, and you have to be able to work with oth­er peo­ple, cre­ate with oth­er peo­ple, com­pose, rehearse, share one’s music. It’s not some­thing that you can do by your­self. And I think that is at the core of suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion. This remind­ed me of a study that I heard about a num­ber of years ago and I looked at the the peo­ple behind the study, Kirschn­er and Tomasel­lo, on joint music mak­ing pro­mot­ing pro-social behav­ior in kids. The premise of it is that being togeth­er in time and hav­ing shared musi­cal expe­ri­ences helps peo­ple want to be more help­ful, altru­is­tic, empa­thet­ic. Aren’t those all things that we want in our com­mu­ni­ty? Pret­ty out­stand­ing, I think that music can play a role in that. 
  2. Process-ori­ent­ed music edu­ca­tion: The sec­ond ele­ment of music edu­ca­tion being process-ori­ent­ed, has to do with the steps that are tak­en in the lead up towards a prod­uct. So I think often we think about music edu­ca­tion as being all about the per­for­mances. While I do think per­for­mance is valu­able, and can be real­ly quite mag­i­cal, I think that the way you get there is more impor­tant than the con­cert itself. So for me, process-ori­ent­ed music edu­ca­tion involves stu­dents mak­ing deci­sions that impact the expe­ri­ence itself. So stu­dents mak­ing deci­sions either in terms of com­pos­ing and cre­at­ing the music, or in terms of the rehearsal process, or direc­tion that the rehearsal takes, the pac­ing. All of those dif­fer­ent deci­sions are empow­er­ing stu­dents to be part of that process. I think that’s real­ly key to suc­cess­ful music education. 
  3. A life­time prac­tice: The third idea of a life­time prac­tice goes to some­thing that Dr. John Feier­abend calls the 30 year plan. Here the idea is that as a music teacher, you aren’t only teach­ing the chil­dren in front of you, you’re teach­ing them such that they might become adults who feel com­fort­able singing hap­py birth­day with their friends, who feel com­fort­able danc­ing at the wed­dings they attend, and should they choose to have chil­dren of their own some­day, that they would feel com­fort­able singing a lul­la­by to the kids in their life as adults when they grow up. So that is anoth­er impor­tant part of suc­cess­ful music education. 

I want to pull up the core val­ues of Viva Singers Toron­to. So there is that ele­ment of per­for­mance artistry, high­light­ing a singing vocal music edu­ca­tion, the idea that music edu­ca­tion needs to be for every­body. Lead­er­ship and men­tor­ing can be a key aspect of music edu­ca­tion, and com­mu­ni­ty. Again, it’s all about rela­tion­ship. In order to have a suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion pro­gram, it has to be about community.” 

Thoughts on cre­ative music-making 

See here to view video, or read on for transcription.

Tran­scrip­tion: “What drew me towards cre­ative music mak­ing in my own teach­ing prac­tice was, to be hon­est, the pan­dem­ic. I think that when music edu­ca­tion as I had known it no longer was pos­si­ble, I was real­ly chal­lenged to reflect on what the pur­pose of music edu­ca­tion was. Why was I doing what I was doing before the pan­dem­ic? And is that some­thing that I want to be doing after, if there ever real­ly is an after? 

In reflect­ing on the pur­pose of music edu­ca­tion and find­ing myself with more ques­tions than answers, what I found was that I had more room to exper­i­ment. I had more room to try dif­fer­ent things out, to let my stu­dents try dif­fer­ent things out and I’d dis­cov­er that that’s actu­al­ly a lot of fun, and real­ly, real­ly valu­able. So what drew me to cre­ative music mak­ing prac­tice was an inabil­i­ty to do music as it always has been, and space, time, ener­gy and cre­ativ­i­ty from my stu­dents to exper­i­ment with some­thing new. 

How might cre­ative music mak­ing help access the cen­ter of music, lis­ten­ing and sound­ing prac­tices that my stu­dents bring to the class­room? Well, I think as teach­ers, one of our biggest jobs is to get out of the way of stu­dents’ learn­ing. That is not a con­cept that I’ve come up with myself, but that a very respect­ed col­league of mine has shared with me in the past, and I just think it’s such a great phrase: get out of the way of stu­dents’ learn­ing. Cre­ative music mak­ing helps us make room for the stu­dents and it helps us step back as their teachers.

What are my hopes for music edu­ca­tion for my stu­dents as of broad­er prac­tice? Well, I would real­ly love for more peo­ple to expe­ri­ence the joys of music mak­ing. My hope is that all stu­dents feel able to engage ful­ly and stretch them­selves in music at a high lev­el, and not just those who have been tra­di­tion­al­ly suc­cess­ful, often with the sup­port of pri­vate lessons or spe­cial pro­grams. I feel like every­body should be able to expe­ri­ence music in its most won­der­ful form. 

And my hope is that we move away from the mis­con­cep­tion that cre­ative music edu­ca­tion com­pro­mis­es the qual­i­ty of the chil­dren’s musi­cal expe­ri­ences. I don’t think that’s true. I think in actu­al­i­ty, cre­ative music edu­ca­tion enhances it. And so that’s some­thing that I want to explore more and that I hope as teach­ing prac­tice as a broad­er prac­tice, we’re able to explore and exper­i­ment with togeth­er as well.” 

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact Edmee at edmee.nataprawira(at)

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