Conduct weekly rehearsals for cadets, most of whom had no musical background, expanded choir’s role in weekly Mass from hymns only to include sung Mass parts, chanted Psalm and new anthem. Increased enrollment from three to 20, retained 80% over three years.
Conduct thrice weekly for Chamber Choir, an auditioned group of 24 students, expanded repertoire to include more challenging works with diverse styles, in two concerts; Conducted twice weekly rehearsals for University Singers, an ensemble for all students, faculty, staff and community members, increased enrollment by 50%.
Beginning & Intermediate Choral Conducting. Taught undergraduate choral conducting to music majors. Built self-evaluation forms on Blackboard
Appreciation of Music. Taught two undergraduate sections, arranged free tickets to local concerts for
—John Loren Fairbanks, accompanist
and chief aide producing Christus
—2LT Timothy Behnke, cadet choir commander
—Stephen G., choir member and high school choral director
—Eric Firestone, assistant with Christus, choir
member and now a middle school choral director
—James Senson, assistant with Christus
and student in my conducting classes
My foremost objective is to help prepare students for a life beyond college: A life that is productive and contributes to the betterment of society: A life that provides personal satisfaction and fulfillment: A life wherein the student thinks autonomously and forms considered opinions based on observation and thoughtful analysis.
Music schools and conservatories are most effective when they graduate professionals who are well-skilled in rudiments such as sight reading and aural comprehension as well as outstanding skills in instrumental and vocal technique. Students will be successful when they sight read fluently and act like professional musicians. Graduates who practice professionalism in school and master the tasks of working performers are most likely to succeed. This success comes down to practical and quantifiable skills.
Objective: Excellence in sight reading
Having worked for more than ten years in New York, and having hired dozens of professional singers, I have a keen awareness of what is required to succeed as a professional singer. Most vocal graduates will initially earn their living by singing gigs in churches and choruses; it is how every aspiring opera singer and Broadway star builds a resume. As such, singers who are able to read most choral literature at sight are more likely to be rehired.
In addition to designated sight-singing classes, this critical skill can be reinforced in choral rehearsals by regularly subjecting the choir to reading novel literature of every historical period. Rhythm flexibility and familiarity with mixed meters can be strengthened in vocal warm ups and exercises. In short, the rehearsals are ideal environments to help students improve their musicianship skills.
Objective: Distinguishing between various performance styles
In today’s market, there are plentiful opportunities for performers and singers who are aware of the various performance styles practiced in different historical periods and geographical locales. Hence, singers who can use their voices in a variety of ways—with and without vibrato, for instance, or learning how to ornament Baroque and Classical arias—are more likely to be employed. Since our goal is to enable our graduates to earn income in their chosen field, we do them a great service by exposing them to as many performance styles and methods as possible.
Selecting a wide range of repertoire, from every historical period and place, gives the students an opportunity to learn how to perform different styles in a forgiving environment. It is important, however, for choral conductors to work closely with voice faculty—to teach singers how to sing straight tone or minimal vibrato in a healthful manner. No one wants students to leave school with vocal problems. Professional singers work everyday in performances that require straight tone; there is certainly a healthy way to produce it. Our job is to teach them how.
Objective: Identify formal structures and compositional techniques
One of the most important components of aural training is to be able to hear cadences and identify formal structures. These goals can be incorporated into a rehearsal by posing well-timed questions regarding how the work is constructed, how extreme chromaticism may highlight textual references or when a recapitulation occurs, among other things.
These and other facets of musical components, as well as performance elements, can be discussed during rehearsal. I’m not suggesting we turn rehearsals into music history classes; rather, I propose that musical understanding be taught along with the notes. That the conductor identify form, the use of modulations and chromaticism, and how articulation in one piece differs from articulation in another.
Objective: Enhance the choral program
These suggestions are not meant to be implemented in a vacuum—exercises for their own sake; rather, the equally important goal is to enhance the school’s choral programs. Excellent sight readers will only improve rehearsals; students who can differentiate between historical styles will bring a richness to performances that otherwise would be lacking. Finally, to create multiple vocal sonorities in a healthful manner is an important and worthy undertaking—one that will give graduates a considerable head start in their career development.
The primary purpose of choral rehearsals is to prepare choral literature; still, let us not forego an excellent opportunity to reinforce what students are being taught in music history, sight-singing and aural skills. This is team teaching in its most useful form: colleagues working together to prepare and graduate students who have a reasonable chance to succeed by incorporating what they were taught in school into their professional lives. Let’s help them earn an income as a musician. What better gift can we give them?
There is great satisfaction in working with students and adults who just love to sing. My goal isn’t to prepare them for a music career; rather, I want first of all teach them how to use their bodies to produce healthy sound. Giving them the means to do so requires vocal exercises that allow them to learn for themselves such fundamentals as a grounded stance, effective breathing, relaxed posture, consistent use of articulators.
Once they feel comfortable in their bodies and grow more confident as singers I can introduce exciting and appropriate repertoire that will both engage and challenge them. Success depends on selecting literature of varying styles and genres, balance between English and foreign texts, level of difficulty and a serious or lighthearted affect.
These folks are our future audiences and financial backers. Let’s build upon their inherent love of music—especially singing—and enhance both their performing and listening pleasure. By doing so everyone benefits—and that is a wonderful outcome.