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 ( 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, 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, or contact me or any NATS member:, 202-387-7401 x12.