Are you a process or a product style choral music educator?

Peggy Dettwiler

After presenting an interest session with the Mansfield University Concert Choir demonstrating vocal techniques at the 2006 ACDA Eastern Division Conference in New York City, Frank Albinder commented: “I didn’t know that you were such a process person.” The comment inspired my thinking. Since then as I have read articles on teaching philosophy and observed conductors in rehearsal, I have considered whether the process of how students learn is as important as the final product or, in other words, the performance. If the performance is great, does it matter how we get there? My answer is “yes, it does;” in fact, the process can enhance the product!

I am really looking forward to presenting interest sessions on Saturday morning in Boston, “The Choral Rehearsal: Process to Product,” with the Mansfield University Concert Choir as a demonstration group. Throughout my twenty-six years at Mansfield, I have been passionate about vocal pedagogy and sequential learning as applied to choral rehearsals.

Successful performances are grounded in a creative, yet systematic, rehearsal process that builds confidence through vocal development, musical knowledge, and security in musical performance. My process involves layers of learning centered upon the elements of music: rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, and tone color, combined with articulation, dynamics, and cultural understanding.

The interest session will focus on specific concepts related to each musical selection and will demonstrate rehearsal techniques that define an efficient and effective rehearsal process resulting in a musical product that is grounded in healthy vocal technique and musical understanding. Techniques such as count-singing using the Tometics method, pitch-reading based upon solfège, text-chanting à la Robert Shaw, and changing choral colors using head- or chest-voice will be incorporated. In addition, exercises for achieving choral blend through vowel formation, dynamic balance, and voice matching will be demonstrated. Here are examples of pedagogical approaches to tone color:

Bright-forward timbre: Laudar Vollio from Cortona laudario (13th c.)

A. Bright tone color
1. Begin with puppy whine
2. Vocalize on tongue vowels only: “nee-ay-ah-ay-ee”
3. Five tones descending on “nyae, nyae, nyae,” or “yellow”
4. Fast vocalises with initial consonants: V, Z, Y
5. Vibration towards the hard palate; soft palate not as involved
B. Application to music
1. Chant text on Shaw chord
2. Learn pitches with solfège in E dorian

Dark vocal color: I’ve been in the storm so long (Jeffery Ames)

A. Vocalize with dark color (compare dark and bright)
1 Sense an open throat – sip air through straw to feel lift in palate
2. Use lip vowels: ah, oh, oo
3. Sing five tone descending scale on “ee-oh” with Oreo cookie concept
4. Sing ascending/descending scales on “noo noh nah nay nee” with puckered lips
5. Put hands on cheeks for tall vowels and rounded lips
6. Pretend you have marshmallows in throat
7. Imagine Timothy Seelig’s concept of the woofer and the tweeter:
woofer– resonance in the pharynx with lifted soft palate

The Concert Choir and I will demonstrate the rehearsal techniques with repertoire selections by Monteverdi, Parry, Britten, Messiaen, Esenvalds, Memley, Ames, Runestad, and Hatfield, and a handout with teaching techniques will be provided. Hope to see you there!


Peggy Dettwiler is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Mansfield University, where she conducts the Concert Choir, Festival Chorus, and Chamber Singers, and teaches choral conducting and methods. She holds the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Dettwiler has served as a guest conductor and lecturer throughout the country and has given presentations at numerous NAfME and ACDA Conventions. She has produced two DVDs, one entitled, “Developing a Vocal Color Palette for Various Choral Styles” and the second, “Sing in Style.” Dettwiler made her conducting debut in Carnegie Hall in January of 2014 and presented an interest session at the World Choral Symposium in Seoul, Korea, in August of 2014.