Female singers and a male director
January 7, 2013 at 11:11 pm #18064
I have been teaching k-12 music in a small district for 3 1/2 years and I am beginning to notice a disturbing trend. When I first arrived, my female singers (the largest part of my choir) sang with very good volume even if not always with mature sound. I have worked a great deal on mature tone and vowel shaping but, starting last year, I started to notice my female singers singing with a real lack of volume and support. We are a small choir of about 4 kids per section and this makes it hard to do the kind of lit. we should be doing if we are building on the growth of my first two years. We also have tone and of course intonation problems. I wondering if a big part of my problem is the fact the kids I have now have only really worked with a male choir director and haven’t heard that mature female sound to emulate. My other though is that, in my efforts to get the darker tone my kids are placing their sound too far back to project well. Are these two possibilities and if so, what are some things I can do about it? We have worked quite bit with rib and belly expansive breathing and using our diaphragm for energy. Any other ideas?January 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm #18266
I’m a male chorus director as well, and I have had good results with vocal modeling using my falsetto register. I can’t sing the entire soprano range comfortably, so I will drop an octave when necessary. The female singers get good information on vowel purity, tone color, placement, etc… You might also ask a female singer to come to class one day and do a demonstration for your sopranos and altos. Someone from the local college would probably be willing to help. As an alternative, play a recording of a professional classical singer.
As far as the tone/placement issue is concerned, make sure they are keeping their tongues relaxed and forward, not drawn back in the mouth. What you want is a bright, clear vowel with a warm mellow tone (open, relaxed throat position). It is difficult for beginning singers to separate those two issues.January 12, 2013 at 4:34 pm #18481
I’m a male choir director and I’ve also had good results with female singers. With middle school and high school students, I always sing in my regular voice and rarely in falsetto, unless it’s to help the men with falsetto. I always work on getting a natural, free tone with my singers and never mention dark or bright vowels, or mature sound.
What exactly do you mean by “using our diaphraghm for energy”? Last year, I attended a session at an ACDA convention where members of NATS did a session on “vocal mistructions” (instead of instructions). One of the things they mentioned that is counter productive is saying “breathe from your diaphragm” because we always breathe with our diaphragm, even when we’re breathing poorly. What was an eye opener for me was that the panel said that men and women breathe differently! When getting my students thinking about breathing, my male students put their hands around their belly button. I ask my female students to place their hand, below their belly button. I’ll often tell my female singers ‘breathe from your pelvis”. I also have them do lots of sirens and lip trills. Also lots of hums on mm, nn, and ng. Sometimes I’ll have them sing something on a “v” or a “z”. Sometimes I have them speak like Julia Child.January 14, 2013 at 9:39 am #18506
I think male and female directors can be equally effective with the opposite sex, and there are any number of variables influencing what you are noticing in your female singers. It is not always productive to diagnose a choir without observation, but (given what you say) I am wondering if the female singers need some time and instruction on putting the sound “in the mask?” From your description, it may be that these young women are trying to darken the sound to make it more “mature,” but their technique fails them (resulting in pitch and tone problems). Try voice-building exercises that go after “ping” –especially on “oo” and “ee” sounds (always modifying vowels as necessary, and always avoiding tension–especially in the tongue). Emulating Julia Child’s unique speaking voice is help. You can always devote a rehearsal to a master class, bringing in an outside respected voice teacher to help sort through this. It is such a good sign that you are searching for answers! You will find them!
Anna Hamre, DMA
Choral Council NAfME Advisory MemberJanuary 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm #18539
“I started to notice my female singers singing with a real lack of volume and support.”
My first thought when I read this was maybe your kids are afraid, especially being in such a small group. Not only afraid of you, but afraid of each other. They have to feel safe and comfortable before they’ll sing out.
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