From the Vocal Studio to the Choral Classroom: Incorporating Key Concepts of Vocalism within the Choral Rehearsal

Derrick Fox

The benefits of having students in your ensembles participate in voice lessons can be invaluable. The reality is that access to these lessons is not always available or affordable. This participatory session will introduce vocal techniques, literature ideas and rehearsal tips that will strengthen your singers’ musicality and promote healthy vocalism throughout your rehearsals. This session is for the “do it all” teacher/conductor searching for more strategies to develop their choral singers’ personal vocal development.
Introducing vocal techniques that encourage the unification of registers and develop effective breath management are essential strategies for strengthening your singers’ musical capabilities. Unifying vocal registers refers to the singer’s ability to smoothly transition between the breaks that naturally occur in the voice. Singing a descending scale on a [i] vowel, particularly through the passaggio, is an effective tool for teaching your singers how to unify the tone through vocal registers. Effective breath management is essential for fostering the musical growth of your singers. Messa di voce exercises can be a key tool in developing effective breath management for your vocalists. Messa di voce is characterized as singing a on a single sustained note maintaining consistent resonance and vibrato while evenly increasing and then decreasing volume throughout the note (Ex.1). One can also make this exercise more interesting for the singer by utilizing a four part singing texture (Ex. 2)

Example 1
Example 1

 

 

 

 

 

Example 2
Example 2

The benefits of breath management include building stamina through increasing the duration of the sustained note, encouraging breath management and NOT breath control, and strengthening tone. It affords the opportunity to incorporate kinesthetic learning and reinforces musicianship through the exploration of dynamic contrast. The consistent implementation of vocal techniques that promote the unification of registers and development of effective breath management should be at the core of all vocal music programs.
At the center of any good choral program is well-planned and thoughtful literature consideration. There are many outlets from which to choose choral octavos to use a teaching aides in our choral ensembles. We oft neglect art songs as instructional tools in our choral programs and have relegated them to solo singing experiences. In fact, arts songs provide another outlet for capitalizing on the value of unison singing. Employing these songs in your choral program not only strengthen your singers intonation but can also be used in group vocal lessons, commonly found in schools throughout New York state, and offer options for assessments.
Collaboration and encouragement are also essential elements in helping your students translate vocal studio concepts into the choral rehearsal. Inviting professional singers into your classroom setting, especially if they are former students, can help your students see connections from your classroom to their career goals. Once might even consider programing a small work with soloists in which you can use your students as the soloists, i.e. Mozart Veni Sancte Spiritus. This type of experience can serve as encouragement for those students who choose to pursue singing as a career. We know that singing is a VERY personal experience. Choral directors should stay engaged vocally so that we never forget what it feels like to be on the other side of the podium. If we remember the skill and effort it takes to keep our own voices in shape, it will inform our efforts to do the same for our students.
Most teachers must subscribe to the school of “Do It All, ” meaning we are the choral director and voice teacher for our students. We may not be fortunate enough to live in areas where the resources are available to provide students with supplemental musical instruction and if we do, our students may not be able to afford those services. We have to continue to grow our knowledge base so that we can effectively and efficiently provide the necessary instruction our students need in order to support their musical growth. The practical techniques outlined in my session in Boston will be focused on equipping you with the tools to employ these techniques in your choral classroom.

Dr. Derrick Fox
Assistant Professor of Choral Music Ed./Choral Conducting
Ithaca College, New York
dfox@ithaca.edu