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Should I major in Conducting or Vocal performance?

Here is the compilation of e-mails I recieved on the subject of choral conducting
at the master's versus vocal pedagogy. Thank again you for the many responses to my

Jeffrey Freuler
Hey, Jeff.

Someone said that if you're not a voice teacher, you shouldn't be working with
choirs. That makes lots of sense to me, so if you have any choice, I would think
that a degree in vocal pedagogy might give you advantage over some of your
colleagues in conducting. Then again, you might not want to miss the invaluable one-
on-one conducting lessons you'd probably be getting in a master's in conducting.

I hope that makes some sense.

-Bragi (Grad. Conducting major at Florida State University)

Choral Conducting MajorI would say that a *degree* in vocal pedagogy (as opposed to
good knowledge of vocal technique and pedagogy) would only be important if you plan
to seek a job where private voice teaching is expected. If that is not your plan, I
would suggest looking for a suitable master's degree at a place that has excellent
instruction in vocal pedagogy as part of the degree.


Dear Jeffrey,

I personally believe that voice pedagogy is very impt, as we as conductors need to
understand how to sing before we can ask from our singers what to do. We can always
brich up on our conducting skills from various summer courses and workshops. I have
attended quite a few in Australia, and it's pretty good.

Alternatvely, u can always pursue your studies in choral conducting, but still have
some formal trining in voice.

hope this is helpful.


Flora (singapore)

You need the MM in conducting before being admitted to the DMA in conducting at any
good school. Good luck.

William Weinert

Director of Choral Activities
Eastman School of Music

I'm dealing with the same issue, though it's a little different for me. I received
my MM in choral conducting, but I want to teach voice privately in addition to
conducting. So, my plan is to get a DMA in vocal ped to learn more about teaching
voice and minor in conducting.

What grad schools are you looking at for vocal ped and conducting? Also, could you
send me a compilation the responses you get?

David Stephenson
Choral Director
Middlesex High School
Saluda, VA

Jeff, that is a great question... As a singer and a conductor fresh out of college,
I am facing that decision as well, although I chose to take a year off between
degrees. If you get any replies I would be interested to read them. Please forward
them to this address.

Also, I have been looking at different programs for conducting. Although there are
many great schools, nothing really calls out to me. Where are you thinking of going?

Ella Elias
Director, Shining Stars Children's Choir
FUMC of Coral Gables

You can do both if you like.
Paul Dease

You would best go right into a master's conducting program . . . to start getting
the "real" experience (learning to listen in rehearsals, how to fix problems, etc.)
and learning lots and lots of great repertoire. It's never too soon to start
building up ideas for future programming. But you SHOULD study some voice on your
own, take voice lessons for a year or two. You should understand the voice, taking
your own lessons helps tremendously appreciating how the voice works best.

Those are my 2 cents. By the way, I came to choral conducting through musicology.
I'd sung in and helped with choruses most of my life . . . But I truly valued the
voice lessons I took and the several languages I studied. .

Bruce MacIntyre, Brooklyn College/CUNY


My name is Brian, currently finishing my first year of my Master's Degree in Choral
Conducting, and I'd like to add another level to your question. As a college
professor, you will undoubtedly teach conducting and perhaps education classes.
Many colleges will not consider a person without experience in the field - how can
we teach future teachers if we have not taught ourselves.

I taught for a few years before going back to school, and now feel I am more ready
and am getting more out of my degree. Furthermore, I feel confident about my choice
of directly pursuing my DMA. Many of my colleagues at school who came directly from
their undergrad are wondering about the "black hole" in front of them. I think, as
much as I loved high school teaching, that it would be much harder to do it after
my Master's than after my Undergrad.

As far as the degree in Vocal Ped, the only advantage to that might be at a small
Liberal Arts college where you would be called upon to teach voice or voice
classes. Do not make that a focus and waste two years of your life on a degree you
will not use. Take classes while receiving your Masters in voice (make sure you
attend a school with an excellent reputation for singing) and certainly get your
DMA - you will not get a college job without it these days.

Good luck, and congratulations on choosing a very important and challenging

Brian T. Russell
MM - Choral Conducting
Eastman School of Music

Hi Jeff,

Here are my two bits. Although having a thorough knowledge of the vocal nstrument
is helpful to working with choirs, many of the best choir directors that I have
known were not solid singers or vocal pedagogues. They all had techniques that they
used for different choral/vocal problems, but they did not have a thorough
knowledge of how the voiceworks. I believe the best conductors are the best
musicians. To be able to speak the musical language fluently and inspire
others is the key to conducting.

I would recommend looking into Westminster Choir College for a Masters in either
Conducting or Vocal Pedagogy. They have excellent departments in both. This might
be ideal for you. It was for me (I did my ndergrad in voice at the U of I and
Masters in Conducting at estminster). Particularly, the whole choral conducting
approach has a very solid emphasis on group vocal techniques, so you get a lot of
practical knowledge of how to work with voices without having to do dvance studies
in voice.

Good luck in your development!

Best regards,
Nathan Davis

Hi Jeff,

I am a grad student now in Indianapolis. If you go the pedagogy route know that
there is a big difference in VOCAL ped. and CHORAL ped. Most pedagogogy degrees are
only Vocal. There is some cross over but I have not seen a program that offers
both. I would suggest going for conducting and taking ped class as part of your
elective studies. Don't forget you can brush up yourself and I suggest reading "The
diagnosis and correction of vocal faults" and "Choral Pedagogy" Two good books.
Also take a look here at us at Butler University. Contact Dr. Eric Stark at
estark(a) and tell him that I referred you. I hope this helped best of luck.

John Cook

Actually, the best advice I ever got as a choral undergrad was to go out and
conduct a while before you pursue a higher degree. Edith Copley from Northern
Arizona gave me that advice, and she was right. It will give you some practical
experience to bring to your graduate studies. I have been conducting at a high
school for five years, and now I am ready to go out and get that master's. (In
fact, I'm leaving teaching to go back to school next year.)

As for your specific question, vocal pedagogy is important, but I got enough for my
purposes through my own private voice lessons. For me, score study and conducting
technique are far more important in my day-to-day conducting. A double major could
be helpful, but I certainly would not study voice instead of conducting. A
doctorate is not really necessary unless you want to get a position at a college. I
would say, pursue the master's in conducting and then decide at a later time if you
really want/need the doctorate.

Colleen Kennedy
Choral Director
Hawthorne High School
4859 W. El Segundo Blvd.
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Usually, most schools will have you continue with more than one area of study. I
would suggest, since choral conducting is such a vast field(I have been in it for
30 years, and still enjoy every minute) pursue both degrees with a major in
conducting and a secondary field of vocal study. it would not hurt to spend as much
free time as you have taking additional piano lessons. It is a great field of
work, and I hope you enjoy this exciting time of your life.
Dennis Keller


While a master's in vocal pedagogy certainly provides a helpful body of knowledge
for a choral conductor, if you are ever thinking of a DMA in conducting, you had
better get your master's in the same field. Unfortunately, many if not most DMA's
in conducting know next to nothing about vocal pedagogy--and they have no trouble
getting through their programs or getting jobs. (Well, maybe "getting jobs"
causes problems!)

My point is that vocal ped is not a stressed commodity for getting through most
doctoral conducting programs. And it unfortunately has never been a barrier to
becoming a great conductor: people like Robert Shaw and Roger Wagner never knew a
thing about vocal physiology. I know--I studied with them. Yes, you can say it is a
different era today. But what we often preach and write in this business is not
what we always do. Sad but true.

An alternative would be to take a number of good vocal ped workshops in lieu of the
master's in vocal ped.
David Tovey, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Music
Ohio State University

Conducting experience is what you need...go to a school that lets the masters
students conduct!! You'll get plenty of vocal ped....there are master classes and
such for that also..Don't forget to take plenty of music ed classes...that will
prepare you for so many things!!
Good Luck.

Debi Chandler
Florida State University


I am currently working on my DMA in Choral Conducting, but my MM is in Voice. I
think there are inherent advantages to having the degree in voice, but I am finding
myself somewhat lacking in solid knowledge of choral lit and creative rehearsal
techniques. I am slightly "behind the ball" when it comes to experience, although I
have been conducting choirs pretty much the entire time.

Really, the choice is yours, but I would encourage you to do a MM in conducting,
teach for a while and then pursue the DMA. Most DMA programs will want you to have
teaching experience before they accept you, just so you know. It makes you more
employable when you are done with the DMA.


Suzanne M. Hatcher
DMA candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Miami
Director of Music, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ

Do the conducting degrees, take all the extra electives in vocal ped and private
voice. Then take a philosophy class.

Kevin Riehle
Houston, Texas

Greetings... Any good school in choral conducting will have pedagogy already
imbedded in your training. Most of the pedagogy that you will use in the choral
rehearsal should be learned in the choral rehearsal. The most important thing is to
find a fabulous teacher/conductor and go to that school. If you visit a school and
the conductor does not use much vocal pedagogy during a rehearsal, consider going
elsewhere. I searched for a long time before selecting a school for my grad degree
and I am very happy with my choice. If you have any other questions, please ask.
Derek Weston

Derek Edward Weston
Graduate Student
Orchestral and Choral Conducting
Eastern Illinois University


I would suggest going with the Masters' degree in Choral Conducting, and take a
Vocal Ped. class or two as part of that degree. That will make you more marketable
as a conductor. A Vocal Ped. degree will track you more to voice teaching than

Kent Hatteberg
Dir. of Choral Activities
University of Louisville

Dear Jeff,

As someone who taught a lot of undergraduates (21 years worth), my first and
strongest recommendation is that you work in the field (teaching, a significant
church position) BEFORE you go to work on a master's degree. Without the practical
experience of working with your own choir and program--where the success or failure
every rehearsal and performance is on your shoulders--the work you do in graduate
school will be (only)academic. Your experience as a conductor tells you what
you do well, what you don't, what you know and what you still need to know. Your
master's degree experience will be incredibly different (and better)with that

My second recommendation is that when you get your master's degree, you do it in
conducting (if conducting is really what you want to do). Yes, understanding voices
is important, so while you're working in the field, take voice lessons from a good
teacher, teach voice yourself, read widely, etc. If you find a wonderful voice
teacher, ask him or her to spend some time in each lesson explaining why she or he
does particular things. If there's a pedagogy class offered where you do your
master's degree (which you will only do after you've gotten at least 3 years of
real-world experience--right?!), take it. Talk with colleagues who get the kind of
choral sound you like and want about how they work for that sound and what kinds of
vocal work they do.

My third recommendation is that you look for a master's degree program (again,
AFTER you've gotten some significant experience as a conductor yourself--do you see
a theme here?!) at a school where a master's degree is the terminal choral degree.
That's because at such schools you'll get much more attention and experience.
Unfortunately, at many schools with big doctoral programs, you'll get much less
attention, since that (and conducting/teaching opportunities) tends to be focused
towards the DMA students. Examples of such programs are Westminster Choir College,
Northern Arizona University, San Jose State University, and Portland State
University--I'm sure there are many others as well.

My final recommendation is very similar to the first: get some more real world
experience--several years worth--before looking at doctoral programs. Put to use
what you've learned in your master's program, get additional experience, show that
you're an accomplished conductor and can build a program. THEN, look for a good
doctoral program and do your DMA.

Yes, it's tempting to go straight through and get that degree! But you won't learn
nearly as much without the real world of experience to back up what you do
academically. And if you intend to have a job teaching at the University level (the
primary reason people get DMA's), the job market is very competitive. Who would you
hire, the person who has degrees, but only the experience available to someone
during school, or a person with degrees (hopefully from three different
institutions-bachelor's, master's, and DMA) and 6 or 7 years of leading their own
programs with significant experience and successes?

For what it's worth, that's my advice.

My best wishes to you.


Richard Sparks, Artistic Director & Principal Conductor
Choral Arts Northwest (Seattle/Tacoma) & Pro Coro Canada
E-mail: richardkathrynsparks(a)

Hi, Jeff. My advice is to major in whatever you most want to do, which in this case
sounds like choral conducting. Then take as much course work, lessons, etc. as you
can in the other areas that interest you. Generally a college choral conductor does
work in at least one other area, and that can be applied voice study or music
education. For our position here, the music education experience was a requirement,
while the applied voice was a bonus, but different schools will have different


Hi Jeff, Like you, I had to make a similar decision only a few years ago. I was
just completing a B.Mus in Vocal performance and wanted to become a Conductor. What
I discovered to be the best course of action was to continue on with an M.Mus in
vocal performance/pedagogy AND choral conducting (double major). This way, I have a
strong background in vocal technique (as ALL conductors should) and can now proceed
on to the doctoral level in conducting (having done a masters degree in that field)
I hope that this helps you somewhat. It's a difficult decision but I hope it all
works out for you. My best wishes for a successful future. Cheers,Karen

Karen E. Nell, B.Mus.
Univ. of Alberta Madrigal Singers Tour 2004 Co-ordinator
Graduate Student, M.Mus.
(Vocal Performance & Choral Conducting)
University of Alberta

Hi Jeff

YOu did not say what your bachelor's degree is in.Voice or conducting? I'll give
you my 2cents worth from the perspective of a singer with over thirty years
experience in amateur and professional choruses with many different conductors, and
as a choral conductor. I have found that the best choral conductors are the ones
who understand the singer's art thoroughly. YOu do not have to have a masters in
vocal performance or pedagogy (I do not and my voice students and choristers
think me more than competent) to get there. If you do get a B.M with a voice major,
I am assuming that you have a solid grounding. The M.M programs specifically in
choral conducting should include extensive study in vocal development, as the
majority of choral conductors are vocal educators, that is they do not work with
professional singers. Or course, experience is the best teacher. Are you able to
attend any summer institutes? Westminster Choir College offers a summer course in
voice building for choirs, also Axel Theimer at the Voice Care Network offers a
summer session. Bear in mind that in general, one needs a DMA and a lot of
experience to lland a college position and there are many more qualified candidates
than jobs (there has been discussion of this on the list.) Have y ou thought of
doing high school teaching for awhile? Again, the best way to learn to teach is to
do it! And have great mentors!

Good luck and please post a compilation!
NOra Zablow

I have a Masters and Bachelors in vocal performance, and learned choral conducting
in the trenches. I wish I would have had more choral training, but at the same
time, I was eager enough to learn on my own the skills I lacked, so I attended
college classes after I got my degrees, I attended (and still attend) summer
sessions, clinics and conferences, I have called in choral directors and picked
their brains about whatever I think I can glean, I spend time conducting in front
of the mirror, and I sing in a group under a fine director in order to examine
from the singers point of view what works and what doesn't.

You certainly need a good background in vocal pedagogy, but you also need all you
can get from a conducting point of view. In other words, the answer to your
question is YES! Either degree will get you what you need - it's the knowledge in
your head that will be of most benefit to you. Bear in mind, however, that when
hiring, most colleges and universities care more about what kind of paper is in
your hand than how much is in your head. If you want to be a conductor, than get
the doctorate in conducting, but learn as much as you can about everything
else, including voice pedagogy, instrumental conducting, composition, arranging,
orchestration, leadership skills, group dynamics, volunteerism, foreign
languages, stylisting interpretation, etc. etc. Good luck!


I would suggest that you get a job for a couple of years as a conductor, either in
a secondary school or as a full time church musician. In my experience over several
decades, those least successful students are those who enter a graduate program
in conducting without any real "in the trenches" experience. Students that have had
a couple of years teaching, conducting, and getting a first hand view of the
challenges and opportunities encountered with directing a choir, have a far
superior chance of success.

Don't be easily seduced by directors of graduate programs that don't feel this is
important. Many are more concerned with keeping their enrollments up than really
producing experienced, well prepared choral directors. An added note is that a
little experience enhances your chances of getting an assistantship position.

Good Luck
Richard Clark, Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon
1750 E. 27th Ave.
Eugene, OR 97403-1648

Conducting, I think. There's so much more to it than having decent technique. A
good conductor knows how to plan rehearsals to maximize efficiency, how to rehearse
effectively, how to hear, how to plan a repertoire for a concert, as well as
conduct. Never stop taking voice lessons, but major in conducting. Good luck.

One man's opinion,
Jim Lunsford
Triton College
Chicago, IL

Dear Jeff:

My name is Mike and I just finished my masters in vocal pedagogy last week. I
direct three college choirs and one community choir as well as teach voice in my
private studio. I have found the masters in vocal ped to be very useful not only in
my private instruction, but also when teaching technique to both college level
students and adults in the community choir level. The one thing with ped though is
that you must find a great teacher, i.e. one who knows the different instruments
and who has experience teaching in the field. There are many who claim to be
edagogists but many who also blow their own horn when it comes to teaching and
therapeutic technique. Good luck and I hope that this has helped you. Also remember
that at the masters level, you will not get the greatest or most desirable tasks to
perform, but at the doctorate level, these experiences may be better for you. Take
care and enjoy grad school.

Dr. Mike Wojdylak


In all actuality it would depend on what your undergraduate degree was in, what
your experience has been, and what your vocal skills and conducting skills are. I
don't think there is one set road but if you did choose choral conducting, you
would likely want to at least take voice lessons as part of your master's study.
Some choose to double major in voice and choral conducting. In addition to voice
you would need to develop your keyboard skills as well, really. For a high school
director it is often so they can accompany their own rehearsals at times, but at
the college level it is, I think, more so that you could play through your music
and have a thorough understand of your scores.
Good luck,

Aaron Mitchell

Either way would be okay, but definitely study both subjects regardless of which
one your degree is in.

Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria

I don't know if you have received all the information you need to make the
decision, but I also want to pursue a Choral Conducting Master's Degree and was
torn between Vocal Pedagogy and Choral Conducting. After doing some extensive
research, I have found that Vocal Pedaogy is included in some Choral Conducting
programs in several schools (Westminster Choir College is one of them). You can
always take summer courses to help with the Vocal Pedagogy or take private lessons
to learn more about vocal pedaogy. I would advise to get your masters in Choral
Conducting with an emphasis on Vocal Pedagogy if you do choose that route. I think
that you should do some research though in order to make your final desicion.
I hope that this has helped.
Snezana Lazich
Director of Choruses at Dover High School

on September 22, 2004 10:00pm
After reading the wonderful responses, it is both gratifying that choral director/vocalists still want to share their thoughts with each other, and the "advice" that is given is worthwhile. I salute both you for asking the question, and to those who have for this ole choir director,, it was just understood that when I went to school, we did must have a tremendous understanding for all the voices, and you must have a command of conducting, analysis, and the job of being a choral director...either as minors in voice in undergraduate school, or as a Grad school enrollee.. find a degree that allows for all of the above course work! Good Luck!