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Stick Time: The Myth of Specialization

My singers can’t do that.”
 
One is always astonished when a colleague assigns perceived limitations to their singers.  Now, of course, we’re not talking about elementary singers performing a Verdi Requiem.  The “my singers can’t do that” line usually issues from the mouth of a colleague on the high school or collegiate level, and almost always in response to a performance by a specialized ensemble.
 
Certainly, there are well-known ensembles that are singularly dedicated to a tightly-focused body of repertoire.  Their performances are brilliant because they have the luxury of being able to limit their attention to a single genre of choral music and in doing so come to master that area.  The rest of us (which means about 99% of us) are expected to cover the majority of the choral spectrum.  That said: To listen to a top-end specialty ensemble, then declare your singers “incapable” is to rob them of a wonderful experience.
 
Take for instance the area of vocal jazz.  A group such as New York Voices has developed a highly-refined sound.  But their expertise should in no way discourage you from trying such literature.  Case in point is this vocal jazz performance from a recent ACDA national conference.  In a conversation with the director, Wallace Long, we learned that 60% percent of the singers in this group are NON-music majors, and that most of them had never sung vocal jazz.  Furthermore, our colleague received most of his vocal jazz education as OJT (On the Job Training).  Rather than saying, “My singers can’t do that” someone shouted, “Hey, let’s give it a shot.”
 
What will YOU try with your choir next semester?