Pitch - Alabama Choral Directors Association

Selecting Appropriate Repertoire
for Developing Singers
Dr. Marvin Latimer
Chair, Music Education Department
Dr. Susan Williams
Assistant Professor of Voice
University of Alabama
Characterize These Songs
• “You are the only voice teacher that most of your
students will ever have” (Rene’ Clausen, c. 2008).
• Presumably, therefore, as with any voice teacher,
one of the most important decisions you will
make (on a fairly regular basis) involves the
repertoire you ask our students to sing.
• Yet both research findings and anecdotal
observations reveal that often choristers,
especially in schools, are presented with voice
parts that they shouldn’t (or even can’t) sing.
• Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with
the the creation and appreciation of beauty.
• Arguably, both music education in general and
choral music education specifically, still suffer
from the post Sputnik I Music Education as
Aesthetic Education Movement.
• Music teacher training programs, which evidence
a profusion of theoretical and historical course
content, support that notion.
Repertoire Characterization
• Music educators, therefore, are trained to
characterize songs in certain ways most often
using specific aesthetically motivated criteria.
• For example:
– Structure
– Character
– Texture
– Harmony
– Form
Repertoire Selection
• It comes as little surprise, therefore, that research has
shown music educators tend to select repertoire based
primarily on musical/aesthetic constructs.
• For example, David Brunner, DCA at the University of
Central Florida, suggests the following “Directors
Expressive Content
– MEJ, Vol. 79, No. 1, Sept., 1992
Paradigm Shift
• But what if we instead characterize songs that
our students will sing in a way that more
accurately addresses the demands that the
song will place on them?
• Remember, vocal sound is simply an
integration of larynx and breath function that
creates expressive singing and speech.
• Our students must make (with their bodies)
the sounds required by the specific song.
Myoelastic-Aerodynamic Theory
• Myo- means muscle; the vocal folds, after all, are
mostly comprised of muscle tissue. The -elastic suffix
serves to remind us that the vocal fold is elastic and
that we have active control over its elastic properties.
• Aerodynamic means that the theory deals with the
motion of air and other gaseous fluids, and with the
forces active on bodies in motion (such as the vocal
folds) in relation to such fluids.
• The bottom line is that we can conclude that at least
some, and perhaps a great deal, of the singing process
is muscular.
Ingo Titze, National Center for Voice and Speech
Sound: A Quick Review
• Pitch is the frequency of a sound as perceived by
human ear.
• Quality of the sound is created by the fundamental
pitch, which possesses the greatest amplitude,
combined with overtones or harmonics.
• Articulation includes the sharpness of the attack, the
amount of sustain, and the length of the decay.
• Loudness is a physiological sensation. It depends
mainly on sound pressure but also on the spectrum of
the harmonics and the physical duration.
What Should We Expect (developmental)?
Naturally, we stay aware of the significant developmental
occurrences during adolescence:
• Larynx growth
• Vocal fold length growth
• Hormonal changes
• Body changes
• Range changes
• Register breaks
• Cracking
• Breathiness (“mutational chink”)
What Should We Expect (pitch)?
• Generally in tune
• Comfortable range (minimize extremes)
• Comfortable tessitura (avoid prolonged high or low)
What Should We Expect (quality)?
Generally pleasant to listen to
Vibrato emerging
Healthy tone (no hoarseness)
Evenness throughout range (as much as
• Clarity (some breathiness is expected)
• Warmth, roundness (space, reduce nasality)
What Should We Expect (articulation)?
• Can be understood
• Has had assistance with foreign language
• Clean onsets and offsets (no harsh glottals)
• As legato as possible
What Should We Expect (loudness)?
Can be heard
Not pushing or straining
Ease of production
Managing breath over phrases
What Should We Expect (artistry)?
• Musicality
– Desire to communicate
– Do they like what they are singing?
• Preparation
– Select repertoire early
– Memorize early
– Nerves
• Repertoire
– Classical or traditional folk selections
– Not too ambitious
– Simpler piece well done is more impressive than aria
learned too soon
What Should We Expect (aural skills)?
Sight singing (intervals, rhythm, solfege/numbers)
Pitch recitation passages
Key signatures
Time signatures
Chord quality recognition
Keep working
with breath
Janice Chapman’s chapter order
Vocal Athletes
• The analogy of the "vocal athlete" is commonly
made when referring to professional voice users.
• Persons who use their voices extensively or who
need highly detailed or exacting sounds place
demands on their voice in much the same way as
athletes place demands on their bodies.
• Although there is no bone in the larynx the
muscles, cartilages, and ligaments act like those
elsewhere in the body.
Vocal Function Exercise (VFE)
• The notion behind VFE as described by Stemple
and colleagues is this:
– It should be possible to treat laryngeal muscles just as
any other muscles of the body are treated in physical
fitness programs.
– That is, it should be possible to increase the bulk,
strength, and coordinated interaction of laryngeal
muscles through a program of systematic exercise.
Stemple, J.C., Lee, L., D’Amico, B., & Pickup, B. (1994). Efficacy of vocal function
exercises as a method of improving voice production. Journal of Voice, 8, 271-278.
Muscle Fatigue and Injury
• Nutrition – Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes
complex proteins, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates.
• Hydration – Drinking water throughout the day and is
crucial to prevent dehydration, electrolyte loss, and muscle
• Endurance – Improve your aerobic capacity. One way to
improve your endurance is to gradually increase your
workout expectations.
• Body Mechanics – Use correct form when exercising.
• Rest/Recovery – Complete a warm up and cool down for 5
to 10 minutes each time you exercise.
• Workouts – Carefully choose workouts that are appropriate
to your physical ability.
Back to Repertoire
• If the repertoire is the stuff of the vocal workout,
what specific musical attributes would you look
for in each of the areas earlier discussed (you tell
– Pitch
– Quality
– Articulation
– Loudness
What attributes should choral songs possess to be ideal for
developing young voices?
• Limited range requirements
• Limited dynamic requirements
• Fosters a blending head voice tone concept
• Offers linearity in all parts
• Available in many voicings
• Copious examples from which to select
Arguably, early music (especially Renaissance music), folk
song settings, some pop arrangements, and light vocal jazz
arrangements are among the styles that are most singable for
young voices.
Less than Ideal
Are there some genres of choral music that can ask too much
of young singers?
• Extreme range requirements
• Extreme dynamic requirements
• Encourage one register (or high glottal) singing
• Lacks linearity in parts (repetitious and vocally taxing)
• “You get the picture”
Arguably, some styles that we must be very careful of when
programming for developing singers are opera choruses,
musical comedy, large concerted works, most Romantic music,
most rock music, some spirituals, some gospel music, some
multi-cultural music.
Marvin’s Rules
• Organize your ensembles by vocal skill level.
• Let each group make its own music-avoid combining with
other groups.
• Include a variety of styles of music in every folder, but tend
toward styles that encourage healthy vocal development.
• Sing more easy songs rather than singing fewer hard songs.
• Select songs that you can know all of the notes no later
than half way through the rehearsal process.
• Let the students develop their singing voice. Don’t tinker
with it in order to suite a particular aesthetic.
• Do not give a student a part to sing if they can’t sing ALL
of the notes.

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