Tag Archives: vocal music

Selecting Music for Contests and Competitions

Anne PaynterBy Anne Paynter

“The results have been posted!” Fluttering teenagers dash to the back hall of the music building to get a peek at the rankings for today’s vocal competition. As nervous as they are, the students don’t realize that it is also a pit-in-the-stomach moment for the teachers following behind them. “What if my students didn’t do well? Could I have better prepared them for this day? Why do the same teachers’ students always seem to come out on top?”

As voice teachers (or as choral directors doing our best to cultivate our students’ individual voices), we are constantly challenged with helping our students to become the best musicians and performers that they can be. There are many facets to this job and obviously, good basic breath support and vocal technique come first. However, there are other layers: language, interpretation, stage presentation, etc. And one of the biggest challenges for the music teacher is simply choosing the right material for each student.

Being music educators, we typically lean towards choosing music that will stretch and challenge our students. But there are other things to be taken into consideration when selecting music for a contest or competition. Let’s further examine how to discern which type of music is best for an individual student when faced with being judged on their performance.

What is the purpose of a vocal contest or competition for high school students? It is likely either to provide financial scholarship, encouragement, or simply a learning experience for the student. In any case, it is of the utmost importance to select material at an attainable level that will showcase a student’s strengths. There is nothing more traumatic for a 15-year-old girl than to walk into an adjudication to perform a song that she knows is not ready. It is our job as educators to determine which music will be manageable for a student to perform well, in regards to range and technical ability, while demonstrating to the judges the unique exceptional qualities of that particular individual.

By way of example, let’s begin with a 14-year-old soprano with an undeveloped, breathy tone quality and limited range. If she has just begun to study, her breath capacity may be small, so songs with short phrases and few long sustained notes would be comfortable. If the student is not the dramatic sort, and you think that just getting through the contest without falling apart will be an accomplishment, try something simple, like Mozart’s “Die Zufriedenheit” (Mozart 12 Songs) in English—or in German if the student is smart and has a good ear for language. Another nice option would be “Billy Boy” arranged by Mark Hayes (10 Folk Songs for Solo Voice). Or, if the student is a little more on the dramatic side, use this to her advantage! The Spanish folksong “I Don’t Wish to Marry” (Pathways of Song, Vol. 3) in either English or Spanish is an excellent choice for a budding actress. Sometimes the ability to interpret and act will outweigh a lack of vocal technique. Finding a song that a student will connect with emotionally enhances their performance—and encourages them to practice! Other favorites for young sopranos are Carol Kelley’s “Who Has Seen the Wind?” and Marcy Pyrtle’s “Pie Jesu” (Ye Shall Have a Song).

A young baritone with an “exuberant” voice can be a challenge. Use his enthusiasm to his advantage in a sea chantey type song, such as, “Sing Me a Song of a Lad That Is Gone” by Sherri Porterfield or ‘Break, Break, Break” by Ruth Morris Gray (Sing Me a Song). Pairing this with a folk song such as “Star of the County Down” arranged by Douglas Wagner (12 Folk Songs for Solo Singers), or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” arranged by Jay Althouse (Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 2), makes for a great contrasting program. Or, if he is capable of singing controlled lines and has an ear for language, try Beethoven’s “Ich Liebe Dich” (Pathways of Song, Vol. 2).

As students progress, the options really open up. Singers with an aptitude for language should definitely explore the options in Italian, French, and German. It is imperative that the student not only be able to pronounce the sounds; in order to interpret and communicate to the audience, students should have a good, working translation of any foreign language song they sing. Italian is the obvious starting point when introducing languages, because the vowels are simple and pure. 26 Italian Songs and Arias offers a wide variety of songs from which to choose, all with background information, translations, and IPA pronunciation guides. Again, play to your student’s strengths! A young actress will love “Nel cor più non mi sento” by Paisiello. Light, flexible voices will flourish in songs such as Caldara’s “Alma del core,” Scarlatti’s “Già il sole dal Gange,” or (for females) Parisotti’s “Se tu m’ami.” A voice with more control might attempt “O del mio dolce ardor” by von Gluck. Remember, when choosing these more frequently performed songs, it is even more important that the student be able to conquer the song and sing it well—the judges have heard them many times!

German can be a great next step when exploring languages. The prominence of consonants in the language helps to bring the placement of the voice forward. Haydn’s “Die Landlust” (Pathways of Song, Vol. 1) or Mozart’s “Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge” (Mozart 12 Songs) is a great choice for a younger, lighter voice. Mendelssohn’s “Auf flügeln des Gesanges” (Classics for Solo Singers) is a standing favorite of judges everywhere. For the more developed voice, choices abound in Mendelssohn 24 Songs (a personal favorite being “Hexenlied” for the student with a dramatic bent) and Mozart 12 Songs.

French is usually the most difficult. There are very few high school students who can sing French convincingly; therefore, it tends to impress the judges when done right! Recruit a French-speaking parent or colleague to help if you are not confident in your ability to get all of the sounds right. Songs like Mozart’s “Oiseaux, si tous les ans” and “Dans un bois solitaire” (Mozart 12 Songs) are excellent French choices for older high school students whose breath support has developed to the point where the tone is beautiful and flexible. For the student with excellent musical skills and interpretive ability, try something like “Il pleure dans mon couer” by Debussy (Pathways of Song, Vol. 3).

In general, it is important to know your student’s voice well before selecting contest music. Never choose a song for competition that includes notes outside of your student’s current comfortable range or phrases longer than he can comfortably sing. Remember, in an adjudication situation, we want the student to walk in feeling confident and competent, not worried about whether or not his voice will crack or if he will pass out from lack of oxygen! Also, pay special attention to the unique gifts of your student—whether that is dramatic prowess, the ability to “float” a tone, sheer size and magnitude, language skills, or exceptional musicality. Each student has something special to show off, and that is what we want the judges to see! Taking the time to research and discover the best song for your student will pay off in the long run, giving him or her a positive performance experience and the encouragement to keep on singing!

Compiling a Vocal Collection

Jay AlthouseBy Jay Althouse, Composer

In 1993, I compiled my first collection of vocal solos: Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1. To be honest, my only motivation, at that time, was to find something to do as a break from writing and arranging choral music. Little did I know that Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1 would go on to become Alfred Music’s all-time top selling vocal solo collection, and that I would compile 17 more vocal books over the next 20 years.

Some of the collections I simply compiled and edited, and for others I did all of the arrangements. Some were comprised of folk song arrangements, spirituals, or Christmas carols, and some were collections of arrangements of great American pop standards from the 1920s through the 1950s. One was a duet book and one a collection of sacred solos. And three, the Ready to Sing… series, are specifically designed for young and developing soloists.

As I look back on those 18 vocal solo collections over the past 20 years, I am proud of what we have put together at Alfred Music. I remember, when I was a high school senior, the difficulty my choral director and I had in finding vocal solos appropriate for my college audition. Today, vocal teachers have an abundance of books from Alfred Music to use with their students, not just by me, but also by other writers and arrangers such as Andy Beck, Mark Hayes, and Sally Albrecht.

My most recent collection, Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers, includes some of the most beautiful and enchanting songs from the great vocal tradition of the British Isles. One of the most difficult things about putting this book together was deciding which songs to include; there are so many great ones.

Included are folk songs from England (“Scarborough Fair”), Wales (“The Ash Grove”), Ireland (“Danny Boy”), and Scotland (“The Water Is Wide”). Many of the titles have wonderful lyrics by fine poets, such as Robert Burns (“Flow Gently, Sweet Afton”) and Robert Louis Stevenson (“Skye Boat Song”). Two songs are appropriate for Christmas: “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” and “The Snow Lay on the Ground.” And a third, “Greensleeves” can be sung at holiday time or year round.

All of the songs in Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers are what I call “singer’s songs.” That is, they sing beautifully, and almost effortlessly, allowing the vocalist to really make music.

I should say, however, that the final song in the collection, “The Blaydon Races,” is not what I would call beautiful. It’s a rousing, boisterous song, which tells the story of the horse races at Blaydon, a town near Newcastle in England, in 1862. It rained, and there was a horse-drawn bus crash and . . . well, you’ll just have to sing it to find out the rest of the story. “The Blaydon Races” is just plain fun to sing, and I’ve included a glossary of terms and phrases from the lyrics to help you follow the bus on its ride to the race track.

Whether you’re looking for audition material, study repertoire, or music that’s simply a pleasure for students to sing, you’re sure to find it with Alfred Music’s vocal solo collections.

Alfred Music’s Vocal Collections Arranged and/or Edited by Jay Althouse:
American Folk Songs for Solo Singers
Christmas for Solo Singers
Encores for Solo Singers
Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Folk Songs for Two
Great American Songwriters for Solo Singers
International Folk Songs for Solo Singers
Love Songs for Solo Singers
Ready to Sing . . . Christmas
Ready to Sing . . . Folk Songs
Ready to Sing . . . Spirituals
Sacred Solos for All Seasons
Songs of Peace and Patriotism for Solo Singers
Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers
Spirituals for Solo Singers
Standards for Solo Singers
Ye Shall Have a Song

The Nature of Jazz Singing

Michele Weirby Michele Weir, author The Jazz Singer’s Handbook

Jazz is a creative, interactive art form that requires finely-tuned listening skills and a spirit of spontaneity. The ultimate goal: to communicate (specifically, to communicate emotion through the text). Great jazz performances are those where the artist has imprinted their own personal “stamp” on a song, making their rendition unique. The only singer that made their career from sounding like Ella Fitzgerald was Ella Fitzgerald. Ultimately, after listening to and studying the great jazz vocal masters, you should sound like you.

The focus of a jazz singer’s performance is more on the singer than on the song itself. While the integrity of the song is certainly an important factor, it’s the artist’s interpretation of the song that is the true essence of jazz.

Great jazz singers communicate with a sense of soulful honesty when they sing. Rather than acting like they feel the story of the song, they seem to really feel the story of the song; you believe them. Even if the setting or storyline of a given song is not true for them personally, they are still able to give an honest portrayal of the emotion behind the scenario.

Thus, the primary mode of communication for a jazz singer is the meaningful delivery of the text. This is number one on the list of artistic priorities! The lyrics to a song are like a story. We want the audience to listen to our story and really hear its message.

(Excerpted from The Jazz Singer’s Handbook by Michele Weir, 00-22020 Book & CD, $19.95)

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Teaching the Individual

Susan JordanBy Susan Jordan
Voice Instructor, Stroudsburg, PA

“She takes each student along a personal journey.” – former student Anthony Nasto, graduate of the Hartt School of Music and member of the barbershop quartet Men in Black.

Since I established my voice studio in 1979, I’ve been privileged to spend time with many special people who have come to me to “learn to sing.” Most of these have been high school students since that seems to be a period when people become aware of the music inside that they want to share. I know that was true for me. I heard a Met broadcast at the age of 13 and was amazed, stunned, and awed by the wonderful sounds I heard. And I knew immediately I wanted to try and do that.

Every teacher who works with vocalists knows that what we do in the studio is just the beginning of each student’s journey. Our primary responsibility is to provide them with tools they can learn to use to unlock their voice; how well they succeed partly depends on how hard they are willing to work, and how much time and effort they will devote to one of my favorite words: practice. It is indeed a journey, and every student’s path is unique, because every voice is unique . . . which is what makes what we do so fascinating.

One of the first students who came to me exemplifies a path that very few students can follow. A 14-year-old high school sophomore when she began to study, she had a true and complete gift: a voice of exceptional natural beauty, and an innate sense of musicality. She almost immediately absorbed every concept I shared with her. Of course, with this ability, her voice blossomed and her singing was a joy not only to hear but to see as well. The love she experienced and could release through singing was very evident. Since she learned quickly to sing with ease, she was able to make music . . . the goal we have for all our students.

The path most students follow is generally not so smooth, as is evident in another high school sophomore’s story. Thanks to a very good cheerleading coach (yes, cheerleaders can also be singers!) she had a good understanding of using her breath correctly. There was a lot of promise in her voice but it was very far back, so obviously that was the challenge. It was slow going, but she was determined and we worked together on vowels, combinations of vowels and consonants, and forward focus. Then I gave her a song she fell in love with, and she was able to incorporate all the concepts we’d been working on . . . and music happened! From that point on it was smooth sailing, and she wound up as a vocal performance major at an excellent school.

One of the most important things I need to do as a teacher of young talent is to have a sense of each student as an individual. Knowing this girl is painfully shy or that boy is filled with insecurity means I need to help them develop the confidence to perform as well as teach them to use their voice correctly. With some students, I find I have to explain concepts in several different ways before I see the light go on! I always tell my students to ask questions if they don’t “get” what we’re trying to do. Picking up on visual and aural cues is important, but questions from the student are direct and cut to the chase.

As teachers we all have a set of exercises that seem to work well with the majority of our students. Sometimes the trick is to modify these, or to consider what else might work. Since singing involves some muscles that we can’t directly see, we often try different ways to find what imagery works best for a particular student. Moving jaw, shoulder, and neck tension to another part of the body where it’s a help rather than a hindrance can vary from simply walking around while singing to one of my favorites, facing the door and pressing with the hands against the frame while leaning forward. (I tell my students to try and push my house down.) This activity engages the intercostals and makes the student aware of how important muscles from the chest to the floor are for a singer. I’m sure all teachers have similar items in their bag of tricks.

Patience is a huge part of teaching teenagers. I have had more than one student who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. With these students, I find less talk and more action works best. Generally, focusing on one element at a time has been most successful. It’s not ideal but eventually we can put the pieces together and move forward. I constantly encourage these students to explain to me exactly what they are doing when they’ve been successful, and this helps them to retain the concept.

I’ve had students who were very, very serious about “learning to sing.” I appreciate their passion and determination, but these are the students I have to sometimes remind not to over think what they are doing. Singing is hard work, but it also needs to be a source of joy! Sometimes I will tell these kids to stop thinking, take a deep breath, love the music, and just SING.

I recently explained to one tremendously talented boy I have as a current student that I’m trying to provide him with the tools to share his soul through his music. That was a revelation for him. He has the same incredible gift of vocal beauty and musicality as the young woman I mentioned earlier. They come to us from time to time!

About Susan Jordan
After attending the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, Susan Jordan moved with her family to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1971. She established her voice studio in 1979 and has had students accepted into such schools as the Eastman School of Music, Peabody Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Hartt School of Music, Westminster Choir College, Cincinnati College-Conservatory, and many other fine programs. Former students have performed on Broadway, in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, on national tours of Broadway shows, and in regional theater. Some are also teaching either as school chorus directors or in private voice studios. Since 1984, she has directed some 80 high school and community theater musical productions. Currently, along with private teaching, she operates the music notesetting business established by her late husband, Jordan Music Engravers. She is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and was recently honored locally by being inducted into the East Stroudsburg Area School District Music Hall of Fame.
Please visit www.susanjordanstudio.com for more information.

How I Won Ms. Senior America 2012

By Elisabeth Howard

“And now ladies and gentlemen, the moment you all have been waiting for. The new Ms. Senior America 2012 is . . . Ms. California, Elisabeth Howard!” I was competing as Ms. Senior California with 34 other State Queens from all over the United States.

I performed “Sempre Libera” from the opera, La Traviata. I knew I would have to muster up every bit of my Vocal Power Technique. “Sempre Libera” was the first aria I had been given by my voice teacher at age 16, just before I was accepted to The Juilliard School in 1959. And here I am at age 71!

Although I won the hearts of the judges and the audience on this day, my journey to this performance was not always an easy one. While in my Master’s Program at Juilliard, I lost my voice—every singer’s greatest fear! I was teaching a minimum of 20 hours each week, was President of the Honor Society, and with the incorrect use of my voice, I strained my voice to the point of losing it. Fearing that my voice was damaged permanently and unwilling to live with this prognosis, I did extensive research to understand the “human singing mechanism.” As a result, I went on to develop the Vocal Power Singing Technique.

My first book, Sing!, (accompanied by audio recordings), was published in 1980 and was the first of its kind to teach non-classical singing. I was a pioneer, performing everything from commercial music and rock to jazz and musical theater. I have taught my Vocal Power Technique to pop, jazz, rock, and musical theater singers, as well as to voice teachers who wanted to know how to teach non-classical singing. I have traveled all over the world teaching workshops and leading master classes in 11 countries and 37 international cities.

Winning the Ms. Senior America crown was dependent on my voice. I had to knock it out of the ball park! How did I do it?

• Vocal Colors
• Agility—for the fast and high coloratura runs
• Pitch Accuracy
• Head Voice
• Chest Voice

I used my signature technique, the Diaphragmatic Vibrato, for all my sustained tones, especially for that high, sustained D-flat at the end of the aria. That final note brought the audience to its feet with deafening applause and bravas!

And now, ladies and gentlemen I’m here to tell you that everyone can sing! Your voice is an instrument, and you learn to play it just like any other instrument. Give yourself the gift of singing! My user-friendly instructional course, Sing!, is a self-contained package, perfect for your library shelf. For the price of one vocal lesson, you receive a 144-page book and four hour-long CDs, plus, if you wish, the hour-long Born to Sing! DVD (also available separately). The Vocal Power Method will get you to a level of singing you never dreamed possible. This step-by-step, singing method will change your life forever. I can honestly say that I am proof of the pudding!

About Elisabeth Howard . . .

Elisabeth Howard is on the voice faculty of Pepperdine University. She is a graduate of the Juilliard School, and has performed extensively in opera and music theater. She has given workshops and master classes in 11 countries and serves as Director of the Vocal Power Academy in Los Angeles. Among her many illustrious clients are Sting, The Police, Priscilla Presely, and Paige O’Hara (voice of Belle in the film Beauty and the Beast.)

Ms. Howard is the author of Sing!, co-author of Power Speech , American Diction for Singers, and the Born to Sing DVD, and author of The ABC’s of Vocal Harmony, all distributed by Alfred Music Publishing Co.

Click HERE for more information on Elisabeth Howard’s publications.

Breaking Bad Vocal Habits . . . The “Aha” Moment!

By Dina Else, Choral Clinician and Voice Instructor

“The more I delve into my singing, the more I realize that the problems I have as a singer are pretty much self-inflicted.” — Sebastian Gillespie

The above quote is from one of my private voice students, spoken this summer as he was preparing to compete in the final round of the Iowa State Fair Talent Competition. The young man has a fantastic voice coupled with a slew of bad habits that make his practice and preparation a pretty miserable experience. At the time, he habitually placed his chin a couple of inches in front of his sternum, causing his pharyngeal space to be cut off and the production of his tone to be strained at best. The higher the musical line went, the further out in front of his sternum his chin traveled! He also struggled with breath intake and management.

Growing up, his main focus was dance. Need I say more? His dance instructors, appropriately so, drilled into him that during dancing his abdominal wall should be pulled in and held in that position. As with many dancers, he found himself adopting this body carriage during the everyday care and feeding of his body. Needless to say, that torso positioning doesn’t help out a young singer who desperately needs to engage his breath support!

Sebastian is not alone in his quest to overcome poor singing habits. Private voice studios are alive and well and filled with singers like Sebastian who have lofty performance goals but find themselves at the mercy of their body’s long-standing debilitating habits. In today’s society of quick fixes and ready-made solutions, most singers find themselves waiting to be handed the magic bullet. I’m pretty sure that up until the “aha” moment I shared above, he thought that if he waited long enough, a quick fix was right around the corner, and all of his poor habits would be replaced by some magical piece of information I just hadn’t given him in the two years he’d been studying with me!

Does the above scenario sound familiar to anyone? Whether you are a solo singer, a singer in a choral ensemble, or an adult singer in a church choir, if you want to improve as a singer, you first and foremost must understand how the vocal instrument works (scientifically speaking), and then you must identify the poor habits that are detrimental to your progress and make a plan to replace those habits with new, more productive habits.

I’m happy to report that since this pivotal lesson in late July, Sebastian has begun to keep what I call a “habit busting journal.” As he stated so succinctly, his vocal frustrations were self-inflicted. Since that day in July, he has identified the poor habits that were stalling out his progress and has begun the process of replacing them with new, clearly defined habits. He is now actually using the tools I’ve been giving him for the past two years to correct his head and neck alignment issues, and he quickly catches if his chin and sternum aren’t lined up or his ears and shoulders aren’t lined up.

Let’s use Sebastian’s breath intake and management issues to drive home an important point. After two years of lessons, this young man clearly understood how to execute a correct breath intake, and he absolutely knew how to engage his diaphragmatic breath support. By the end of each 30-minute lesson he was always in good shape regarding both of these issues. He would walk out of his lesson confident that this was the turning point lesson, the lesson where he fully understood what he was supposed to be doing differently, and this time the information was going to stick. As his voice instructor, I would encourage him to begin the journey of taking that information and building daily habits that would solidify the information and move him forward . . . then I would keep my fingers crossed.

Unfortunately, after giving my students the necessary information, tools, and resources, the next step is totally up to them and out of my control. Sebastian would come back the next week and we would start the process all over again! Sound familiar? The issue with this young man wasn’t a lack of intellectual ability—he is truly one of the brightest students I’ve ever had. He just had an absolute blind spot in regard to the power of habit. I’m happy to report that at this point in Sebastian’s journey he is progressing quickly toward his goals. Not a moment too soon, since he’s a high school senior getting ready to audition for college scholarships.

As educators, I think we sometimes fall into the trap of dealing individually with each problem and issue that pops up, applying bandages as fast as we can manage. It pays to take a step back and really analyze the cause of the issue in the first place. If it’s a matter of habit, take the time to help your singers identify detrimental habits and hold them accountable to implementation of a more helpful routine!

BIOGRAPHY
Mrs. Dina Else is a highly sought after vocal technician/specialist, choral clinician, motivational speaker, festival conductor, and adjudicator through out the United States. The choral ensembles she works with are consistently awarded ‘Best Vocals’ and highest honors in competitions and festivals. Dina is a published author and columnist and currently serves as the Vocal Technique Columnist for Choral Strategies Inc.

Dina has had 17 years of high school choral classroom experience and 10 years at the collegiate level including: Ithaca College, Wartburg College, Drake University, the University of Northern Iowa (where she received her Bachelor and Masters Degrees), and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (where she completed all of her doctoral coursework in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy).

As a mezzo-soprano, Dina has performed many opera and oratorio roles as well as several recital and guest soloist appearances. She is also a highly regarded private voice teacher in the Des Moines area, heading into her 25th year of teaching privately. She is committed to researching, acquiring, and sharing new knowledge concerning voice science and pedagogy.

Please visit dinaelse.com for more information or to contact Dina.

Supporting the Arts

By Sally K. Albrecht

Did you know that many of the works of art included on Alfred vocal covers are hanging on our walls? My husband, Jay Althouse, and I began collecting primarily American and Haitian folk art in the mid-1980s. We feel strongly that artists should support each other, and, as a result, we have a home full of wonderful and colorful artwork that inspires us every day.

The paintings used for both American Folk Songs for Two and American Folk Songs for Solo Singers were created by Debbie “Mama” Criswell, a self-taught artist from Clinton, Tennessee. Debbie is a single mother of two girls and a boy, who has primarily sold her art on eBay since 1999. She was inspired by the rolling hills, tall farm houses, and Amish families she observed while living in a small Missouri town. We discovered her striking, clean, and attractive work in a small gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We met Zernie Smith during the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, several years ago. He created a trio of pastel paintings especially for us to use in our Ready to Sing . . . Series. We love the all-red traffic light that appears on all three covers (Folk Songs, Spirituals, and Christmas). Zernie’s imagination is amazing. He uses diverse icons of many cultures, presenting them in a rich, bold palette of colors. Check out his website: zerniezart.com

Jay was compiling a vocal collection entitled International Folk Songs for Solo Singers when we found the perfect painting by Massachusetts illustrator and artist Jacob Jaskoviak Knight (1938-1994) at a folk art show in Atlanta. The oil painting Lions Are Wonderful caught our eye, as each of the five gentlemen perched on the lion’s back has a distinctive face plus holds an item of interest, three of them musical instruments.

Barbara Gurwitz’s painting Down by the River inspired the Alfred vocal collection Ye Shall Have a Song. This fabulous painting is the focal point of our dining room. We discovered Barbara’s works during a visit to Scottsdale, Arizona. She paints primarily vibrant, colorful, and expressive landscapes that surround her Arizona home.

On the same trip, Jay fell in love with the woman in Linda Carter Holman’s painting Yellow Rose. He teased me that he’d search for that haunting woman for the rest of his life . . . unless I bought the painting for him (which hangs now just outside his office). Linda’s subject matter is frequently women in colorful, imaginative costumes. We used this lovely image for the Alfred vocal collection Nine Latin American Folk Songs. More of Linda’s art can be viewed at carterholman.com

Both Carols for Solo Singers and Christmas for Solo Singers feature intricate paintings by Sancilius Ismael (1940-2000), a Haitian folk painter known for his refined, meticulously detailed, and colorful works. They are truly magnificent, and often feature intricate painted “frames” along the edges, as our two paintings do.

It’s a joy and an honor to select appropriate artwork for our distinctive vocal covers. And we certainly enjoy having the opportunity to share our art with all of you and your students. We hope it’s an inspiration to you as you teach and perform the wonderful music that’s featured inside!

Alfred Vocal Covers

Gateways Are Not Gates

John Glenn PatonBy John Glenn Paton

Gates may be open or shut. But a gateway invites you in, gives you a friendly access. That’s why three of Alfred’s collections of classical art songs are called “Gateway” books—they invite you to come in and explore a repertoire that, frankly, requires a bit of introduction.

The first two Gateway books gave voice students the basic repertoire they needed in Italian Art Songs and German Lieder. Our third and newest, Gateway to French Mélodies, gives them a helping hand with a style that students often find a bit scary. French is full of pitfalls for singers: unfamiliar vowel sounds, multiple silent letters, and consonants that are sometimes heard and sometimes not, even in the same word. In the Gateway books, such problems are solved by the phonetic system for pronunciation called IPA that is now taught in nearly all university music departments. The IPA pronunciations are placed right next to the printed song, where the teacher and student can look at them together. Translations are there, too, along with notes about interpretation. There’s no need to flip back and forth between different parts of the book or even to buy a separate book.

We expect a lot from classical singers. They are supposed to sing in at least four languages, even if English is the only one they learned in high school. And they have to know the meanings of the words they sing if they want to reach the hearts, not just the ears, of their listeners.

Singing in recitals in my student years, I used to hope that there was no one in the audience who really spoke the language that I was trying to sing! My goal with the Gateway books was that today’s voice students should understand their songs better than I did as a student. Shamefully, I didn’t always understand the meanings of my songs very well. The resources just didn’t exist then. But with the Gateway books, students and teachers have everything they need to prepare for a meaningful performance that makes an emotional impact on their listeners.

Wishing you the best in all your musical endeavors,
John Glenn Paton

Prima la Parola, Seconda la Musica (First the Words, then the Music)

Jennifer SeigerBy Jennifer Seiger, Adjunct Instructor of Voice,
North Carolina State University

How does one begin the process of taking a song from an unknown new piece of music to a fully memorized and expressive personal statement? Often, one opens a book, heads to the keyboard, and begins plunking out the notes of the melody bit by bit, singing through short musical and textual phrases in much the same way as one might pick their way along an unfamiliar, rocky path. As a young singer this was my standard method of music learning. Along the way I added translations and IPA for any foreign language songs, but I always began with the notes.

This was until my first opera apprenticeship. The company director looked at the chorus of apprentices during one of the staging rehearsals—most of us armed with index cards for the words we had not yet been able to commit to memory—and shouted, “You all learn your music backwards! It shouldstart with the libretto!” The libretto—the words—and not the notes were his suggested
“point A.”

Backwards is the new forwards. Not only do I approach any songs that I will perform from memory in this way, I encourage this method of learning among all of my private students. As singers, we have to communicate a text in addition to singing beautiful, musical gestures. Using the text as the starting point creates deep, multi-layered memorization.

The first step is to isolate the text. Before going any further, memorize the text of your song completely—including repetitions of words or phrases as they have been set by the composer. For foreign language pieces, this will include the translation and phonetic pronunciation. Speak the text, write it out, record it and listen to your own playback—whatever method enables you to remember each detail. A valuable time of day for memory work is that time just before we go to sleep. Let the poetry you will be singing be the last thing you focus on before you sleep. When you wake in the morning, see how easily you can recall the poem or text.

Next, look at the rhythmic structure of the piece. Often the rhythm of the music will be an outgrowth of the rhythm of the naturally spoken text. Learn to speak the text in rhythm. Notice where the strong beats help emphasize the stressed syllable in a given word, or the climactic word within a phrase. And then, how can you make the text stresses work in the places where the rhythm does not provide this underlying support? When speaking the text rhythmically, use a sing-song approach that allows you to incorporate elements of articulation and dynamics.

With these two steps you have built a solid foundation for the next layer—the music. Students often remark how easily they are able to marry tune and text—even when the melodies are wide-ranging or full of leaps. The more difficult the melodic material, the greater the benefit of already having the text and rhythm memorized. Finally, with all of the information you have accumulated, interpret the piece and allow the diligence of your preparation to blossom into full artistic expression!

What Can NATS Do For Me?

An Invitation from the National Association of Teachers of Singing

By Deborah Thurlow,
Treasurer, MDDC NATS; co-owner The Musical Source, Inc

In today’s tight teaching market, those who conduct choirs and teach singing may not be trained singers themselves. They often get stuck in a rut of “catch phrases” that are supposed to teach or coach students how to sing better, such as “increase support “ or “sing from your diaphragm.” Are these really understandable instructions to students? Does the director understand what he/she is asking? Vocal instructional language needs clarity. So, where can a vocal instructor go to learn how to be a better educator verbally, and a better singer physically?

Of course, there are numerous resources available to increase your knowledge and vocal skills. Besides books, DVDs, and choral workshops at MEA and ACDA conferences, consider joining NATS (not the Washington, DC baseball team), but the National Association of Teachers of Singing, or at the very least, consider taking a lesson or two with a member.

NATS is an international organization of professional teachers and coaches who teach people how to sing (http://www.nats.org/). Founded in 1944, it now boasts over 6,500 members worldwide. In the US, every state has at least one chapter. As a member, you receive The Journal of Singing, which contains scholarly articles on composers, song literature, diction, vocal pedagogy issues, and vocal health issues, plus reviews of new books, music, CDs, and DVDs on singing. In the last five years, NATS has given greater emphasis to the pedagogy of singing popular styles, especially musical theatre. Both journal articles and national workshops have been devoted to musical theatre vocal training.

Every year, each NATS state chapter holds Student Auditions in high school, collegiate, and continuing education categories for both classical and musical theatre singers. This is an opportunity for students to be evaluated by other voice teachers and for students to learn how to audition—a process necessary for any singer, even the amateur choral singer trying to get into the city chorus. During the yearly state Student Auditions, the top scorers in every category are invited to go on to the regional level. National NATS is split into nine regions throughout the US, and each region has a subsequent weekend event after state conferences, giving another opportunity for voice teachers to meet colleagues from different
states, hear new information from a master clinician, and practice adjudicating students. The topscoring students sing again for another set of adjudicators, and get to observe and learn from their peers.

Yearly, NATS offers national workshops on specific topics in various locations in the US. For example Let’s Make Music Together: The Art of Collaboration is being held in Milwaukee, WI, at the end of March with opera singer Denyce Graves and pianist Warren Jones. In July, NATS is offering Guys and Gals of Broadway featuring musical theatre veteran Craig Carnelia, held at the University of NC, Charlotte. On the alternate year, a national conference is held, which covers numerous topics and offers lots of great recitals, as well as wonderful camaraderie. The next one will be held from June 29-July 3, 2012, in Orlando, FL.

NATS also offers a Young Teaching Intern Program, which offers an intensive workshop for young teachers to teach voice lessons in front of master voice teachers. NATS members who are voice scientists conduct and report on vocal research, and often work in conjunction with The Voice Foundation, a sister organization which offers further scientific study of the voice. NATS is a great network for job and business opportunities that involve singing, such as the Job Board on the NATS website.

For a number of years, NATS leadership has been creating liaisons with other professional music organizations, such as the National Opera Association (NOA), the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). Recently, on March 10, 2011, some of the national NATS leadership gave a presentation to about 800 ACDA members attending the national convention in Chicago. Their PowerPoint presentation, “Choral Directors are from Mars and Voice Teachers are from Venus: Sing from the Diaphragm and other Vocal Mistructions” can be found at http://www.nats.org, for anyone interested in the main topics of discussion. This presentation was an invitation for choral conductors, along with any teacher guiding singing in the classroom or in a one-onone instructional situation, to embrace the concept of healthy singing and look at the kind of language they use to teach.

So why think about joining yet another professional organization, such as NATS? As a vocal educator, you are responsible for shaping and honing your students’ voices. Each of them only has one voice—ever. Healthy singing is key to a successful choral and vocal music program. For information on NATS, go to http://www.nats.org, or contact me or any NATS member: deb@musicalsource.com, 202-387-7401 x12.