A choir director’s responsibility for vocal technique training

Isn’t it nice when a well-trained voice joins the ranks of your choir? Someone with facility and ease throughout their range, able to produce dynamic contrast, a variety of tone colors, and spin out long, musical phrases. This type of voice can really lead a section of the choir, both in terms of having a strong voice on the part for the weaker singers to follow, but also in the more subtle areas of vowel unification, tone color, phrasing and the like.
Unfortunately, for most of us this is the exception rather than the rule, and we spend a good deal of our time trying to develop a natural, healthy singing tone in our choir members. This is a battle worth fighting! Proper vocal technique opens the choir up to a much greater variety of literature, much more expressive, sensitive singing, and a more satisfying experience for everyone in the room.

It’s not really about warming up; it is about refining vocal technique. Too often as choir directors we jump into the warm-up period in our rehearsal without a specific objective for improving the singer’s vocal technique. When we allow this to happen, we are wasting a teachable moment. Choral warm-ups should be treated as group voice lessons. Identify something your group has trouble with, and choose vocal exercises that address the problem.

“It’s not really about warming up; it is about refining vocal technique.”

Here is the key: Take the time to explain to the choir the vocal technique that is being worked on. Vocal modeling is probably the quickest and most effective way to illustrate this, although most choir directors underestimate their own vocal technique and fail to utilize it enough. Mimicking healthy vocal sounds is a very intuitive way to learn for singers of all ages and ability levels, and can be very effective when used properly. Keep in mind that you have a good deal more training than your choir members do. You have only to sit in an ACDA workshop and listen to the sound improve as the clinician makes some crazy gesture to realize this is true. They wiggle a finger, and we go from sounding like a room full of angry cats to the Robert Shaw Chorale in dress rehearsal. Ah, if only our choirs worked this way. When all else fails, choose a strong singer to demonstrate for the group.

I am always surprised when I come across a singer from a really strong choral program, and they are unable to demonstrate an understanding of vocal technique. In other words, they can’t sing very well. I realize that, try as we might; we can’t always reach everyone in our group the way we might like, but I am still struck be the disparity. Part of developing a cohesive choral sound is developing a uniform concept of vocal production. Take a moment and think about what your groups would sound like if every member possessed the came level of vocal technique as the director.

As choral directors it is our charge to develop the voices in our care not only to improve our own choirs, but so that we can send our singers on to still greater choral experiences.

Jeffrey Bauman
Young Harris College
Chair-Elect, National Choral Council