I'm excited to do my first book review on the blog, for an amazing resource: "Educating Young Singers" by Goetze, Broeker, and Boshkoff, First, though, a bit of background about me, as it relates to this book.
In college, I was an instrumental major--trumpet was my main instrument. I dabbled a bit with piano, but as far as choir went, I only sang for one semester. I enjoyed being in choir, but I was wholly uncomfortable with my voice. I knew it was too breathy and unsupported, but I didn't really have the tools or knowledge to do much about it.
As I started my Kodaly training, I was mesmerized by the sequence, the process--it all made so much sense! But the singing...again, I was a bit uncomfortable. I had no general music as a child, and when I sang my sister and best friend often told me maybe I should stop! (I think I'm the classic example of a child who just needed more experience...the more I sang, the better I became!) In the Kodaly levels program at Capital, I was put into Musicianship II class as a Level I student. I think I impressed them that I worked ahead in the 333's and understood how to use a tuning fork--but my singing was not where it should have been. My teachers, bless them, were very understanding and worked with me patiently (a special thank you to Fernando Malvar-Ruiz and the late Eva Vendrei--what amazing educators!) I understood what my singing should sound like....I just couldn't always get there!
After a couple years of struggling with this, I knew I had to get help, as my unsupported singing would just rub off on my students. I took voice lessons for a year or two with a professor at Capital. This helped quite a bit (although of course, I'd love to still be taking them! Why is there not more time in the day?)
The reason I tell you this journey is first, because I think it is common among instrumentalists who turn to the Kodaly philosophy. We feel alone and lost in the classes full of vocalists for whom singing is second nature. We want to sing well--for ourselves, and for the sake of our students--but we are burdened by our own weaknesses and self-consciousness about our voices.
And then, teaching choir...
My third year of teaching, I moved down to Ohio and got a new job. I was told I had thirty minutes each week, during the day, to work with a choir. Most music teachers would be thrilled about this...and I was somewhat excited, but also, scared. Very, very scared.
I'd only been in choir for one semester. I'd taken one vocal tech class in which I nervously sang "The Water is Wide" for my class...what did I know about choir? Of course, I knew by then that this opportunity for my students was wonderful, that any Kodaly-inspired teacher should want to build a choir, to give students the opportunity to hone their voices and musical skills in such a setting. This is one of the reasons we do what we do, so kids can perform beautiful music in an ensemble.
Still, I was scared, but I dove in. Since then, I've had choirs on and off at the elementary level, and I've done the best I could do with the knowledge I've had. I've gone to workshops, I've picked out music I knew the kids could be successful singing. I've seen kids get very, very excited about being in choir. I've heard great comments from parents and administrators. But still...I knew something was lacking.
There is a whole world of choral knowledge out there that vocalists are privy to. How to shape vowels, how to not sing dipthongs, how to end words, how to create a beautiful choral sound. Although I have been to some workshops which touched on these topics, I still felt like an imposter. I knew what a good choir sounded like, but I didn't understand how to get there. I felt like I needed membership to some secret club where they told you these secrets, or that I was a bit stupid for not knowing them to begin with.
At the OAKE conference in Phoenix, I was talking to some colleagues about this very topic, and one of them suggested "Educating Young Singers." "This sounds like exactly what you are looking for," she said.
Wow, was she right!
This amazing resource (which can be bought at www.westmusic.com) is geared both for the instrumentalist teaching choir, and to the choral veteran. It begins with basics, like choosing repertoire, creating a vision for your choir, singing multicultural music, learning the score, and developing conducting gestures. It comes with a DVD, showcasing many of the exercises they discuss in the book.
All of the above was really wonderful, useful information. I realized I had been choosing repertoire more on the basis of the ease of harmony, rather than the beauty of the melody, the piano accompaniment, or its pedagogical uses.
But the part of the book which has truly changed my choral teaching was in Unit 2: The Toolbox. Here, the authors--who are all very well known and respected choral directors and Kodaly-inspired teachers--give the reader many, many games, activities, and exercises to assist students in creating the best choral sound possible. Fun, engaging strategies for physical and mental preparation, alignment, breath management, phonation, vowels, range extension, and more are detailed here.
At last, I thought as I read this, I've been granted membership to the secret club!
I immediately began planning much different lesson plans with these strategies. The first lesson plan I wrote, I knew immediately, was the best choral plan I'd ever written. And as I executed the plan with my students, I saw their interest and excitement grow. (I also heard many things that needed to be fixed that I hadn't heard before!) My lessons since have felt so much more meaningful. My objectives are clear, and instead of "teaching to the concert," I feel I have many goals that we are slowly but surely marching toward.
I have not delved into all aspects of the book (the last part of the book delves into long-range planning and presenting the songs), but only because there is so much good information here--it will take me a while to fully read and utilize everything in it!
This book, I believe, is the answer to the disconnect and frustration I have felt with teaching choir since the beginning of my career. For that, I am very grateful. I encourage you--especially if you are teaching a choir of young voices--to purchase it. It has changed my teaching, and my students' experience, for the better. To view the book on JW Pepper, click the picture below: