ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly online publication, designed for those who work with singers of all levels but specifically K-12 and community choirs. A full annotated ChorTeach index is available online at acda.org/publications/chorteach. Over 160 articles are organized into seventeen categories. For more information, email or visit acda.org/chorteach. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Summer 2022 issue titled “The Space Between: Developing the Intermediate Tenor/Bass Singer” by John McDonald.
In addition to my position at McKendree University, I have the pleasure of entering my fourth season as conductor of the Young Men’s Chorus for the St. Louis Children’s Choir. This ensemble comprises changed-voice tenor and bass singers ranging from sixth grade through seniors in high school. Many of the members transition into this ensemble from one of the organization’s treble ensembles as their voices change. The wide range of vocal stages, from the still changing to the mostly settled, along with diversity of musical backgrounds, has been a wonderful teaching experience for me. I wanted to share some of my observations and advice from my time with this ensemble. Most of this advice is geared toward working with upper middle school or early high school singers, particularly those singers currently undergoing the shift in their voice associated with puberty.
Keep Them Singing!
You have probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: keep them singing! One practice that is sure to break the confidence of any young singer, of any voice part, is to ask them to not sing or “mouth the words.” This is particularly true for a young developing baritone who already lacks confidence in their singing abilities because of the changes they are going through. Being asked to mouth the words or be silent in rehearsal or performance might drive that student away from singing altogether. Instead, be creative! Focus on what they can sing instead of what they cannot. Rearrange the part to fi t their range and ability then be positive and uplifting about this process. They get their own part written just for them? How cool! That approach might be the very thing that keeps them involved in singing, even through the difficult times, and grow to experience their full potential later.
Discuss the Physical Changes to Their Voice
Frequently throughout the season, I get to hear auditions of singers who discover their voice starting to change while rehearsing with a treble ensemble. Every voice is different, so sometimes this transition is steady and incremental, and other times it is sudden and, seemingly, overnight. I always make a point in auditions to discuss with the student what is happening with their voice. I do not go into too much detail with scientific or anatomical terms, as I try to avoid boring them or grossing them out in our first encounter, but I summarize what is going on and how it is likely to progress. It is surprising to me how often they tell me I am the first one who has talked to them about the changing voice. And it is amazing to me how their entire demeanor changes after this brief discussion. They may have come into the room with an apologetic posture and performed the vocalizes unsupported, uninspired, and wincing at every little stumble. But now they stand a little taller, sing with more pride and confidence in their voice, and understand the vocal stumbles and trips are all part of the process.
Read the full article in the Summer 2022 issue at acda.org/chorteach.