Articles by Dr. Don Collins, founder and former director
A Case for Quality Music
Other teachers choose music and teaching technique based on strong educational and aesthetic tenets. It is important to these teachers for their students to develop the musical skills and critical understanding derived from such music as master works, folk song arrangements, spirituals, and contemporary festival and contest music; music with melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic content of diversity; and music with texture that renders the independent part-singing found in traditional music of different styles and time periods. It is a masterful teacher who is experienced and skilled enough to teach early adolescents the value of this type music and bring them to understand the importance of singing it. The beauty of this approach is that the literature proves itself. Once the students have been led to sing it, they soon realilze that it is even more appealing than media music or music directed specifically to the students' unique adolescentristic desires and tastes because they recognize that it is music of quality.
If mid-level choral students are convinced that teachers really care about their well-being and that the choices and decisions their teachers make are altogether for the students’ benefit, they will give their undying loyalty to that teacher. To put it another way, if students trust the teacher, they will unquestioningly sing the music the teacher chooses because they believe the music is beneficial to them. Only a masterful teacher can expect and be worthy of such student obedience.
It behooves publishers to provide an educationally and aesthetically sound product for teachers of mid-level students -- a product (1) that will demand their best efforts so they will reap the joy of being critical music makers their entire lives, and (2) that their vocal instruments are capable of producing (written in their comfortable singing tessiturae)
Approaches to Teaching Boys with Changing Voices
Currently there are two basic approaches in the United States about how to teach singing to boys whose voices are changing. One is the method used by many boychoir directors who keep the youngsters singing in the head voice (may be called "falsetto" after the voice has begun to lower) throughout the change and even encouraging some of them to continue to sing male alto (countertenor) as they become older adolescents and adults. This approach works well in a closed community of boys outside the influence of other boys who do not sing. They support each other in the music making process when they are in an environment where they all may engage in this common practice.
The other approach is taken by most (not all) church musicians and music educators where there is not a close knit community of male singers to support each other. In churches and schools boys may come to the choral situation with little or no knowledge about how to use the head voice. Some may not have attempted to sing at all until the mid-level grades (they may have chosen to sing in choir simply at a friend's encouragement). Usually these boys relate singing in head voice to the way females sound, so they view head phonation as an infringement upon their masculinity. Due to a macho mentality displayed in the family (usually encouraged by a dominant male figure) or because of the influence of male teachers and other boys, they think it is not masculine to sing in head voice. Therefore, many teachers feel it is important to encourage the use of the boy's emerging "male" octave (called "chest" or "modal" phonation). The difficulty with this approach is that the further they progress through the change, the more difficult it becomes for them to move through the passaggio (the "break" or "passage") which separates head and modal phonation. The passaggio becomes so wide (with some boys) that they can't produce any tones at all around middle C (the proximity of the passaggio during the second phase of change).
To alleviate this problem, many teachers choose music that attempts to keep the young male singing in the most comfortable portion of modal phonation (sometimes less than an octave) so the boys do not have to move through the passaggio. As the boys' voices continue to change, the passaggio gradually lowers, as do the tones in modal phonation. Directors constantly must be aware of where these comfortable tones lie, so they may place the boys on the most singable part in the literature. The more options (available parts) teachers have from which to choose, the more likely the boys will be comfortable and productive in the singing process. Many schools have uni-sex classes for boys and girls in the mid-level grades. Putting three grades of boys together (usually 6th, 7th, & 8th) affords three or four parts (CCB, CBB or CCBB) from which teachers may choose when searching for a part in the music with a comfortable singing area for various boys to sing. If school or church protocol calls for uni-grade classes, directors may choose to teach the grades separately then combine them for concert or worship services. In four-part mixed music (boys and girls singing SSCB voicing together), there are at least two boys' parts from which to choose, an option significantly better than having only one part that all boys must sing (SABoys).
Books That Assist Teachers of Adolescent Singers
If you are currently working with early adolescent singers, there is a good chance that the textbooks you studied in college were written about how to teach high school age singers. You may never have had the opportunity to read a book specifically designed to speak to the needs of middle-level age singers.
Three books which will be very helpful to you are recommended here.The first is The Cambiata Concept by Don L. Collins, Professor of Choral Music Education at the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Collins provides a very concise, to the point, in-depth look at the early adolescent male and female changing voice, vocal technique, choral singing, voice classification, singing in unison, sight reading, rote teaching, the uncertain singer, and proper choral literature. This is the type book that will become your "handbook about adolescent singers" and will be left on your desk for immediate reference.
The second is the new 1999 edition of the choral music methods textbook entitled Teaching Choral Music , 2nd ed., also by Dr. Collins. It is one of the most comprehensive publications about how to teach choral music on the market today. It includes chapters on the European roots of choral music, choral music in America, developing a strategy for teaching choral music, characteristics of a master teacher, adolescent boys' and girls' changing voices, understanding the adolescent, proper vocal technique for adolescent voices, getting the most out of rehearsal, classes with and without emphasis on performance, the unique sound of adolescents singing together, the choral environment, and much more.
The third is Teaching Junior High School Music by Irvin Cooper,former Professor of Music at Florida State University and Karl Kuersteiner, former Dean of the School of Music at Florida State University. This book is the original authoritative writing about the Cambiata Concept. Originally written in 1965, it remains one of the most quoted texts on dealing with adolescent voices found in libraries of music educators today. A second edition was released in 1970.
The books deal with the concept of general music, a singing program, voice classification, a music reading program, an ear-training program, choral techniques, fundamentals of music, a listening program, the story of music (history), and responsibilities of the vocal music teacher in middle and junior high school.
The Cambiata Concept and Teaching Junior High School Music are published by Cambiata Press, P.O. Box 1151, Conway Arkansas 72032. Teaching Choral Music, 2nd ed., is published by Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. All three may be obtained from J.W. Pepper at 800-345-6296 or your favorite music dealer.
The Challenge and Rewards of Choral Singing
Students need to know why choral singing is important. They need to know what to expect from their experience in choir, including short-range and long-range goals, and the rewards those goals will render. Finally, they need to be challenged. Any experienced teacher will verify how much easier teaching is if the students and the teacher are pulling together rather than against each other. Most students will accept a challenging curriculum if they understand why the director is requiring them to respond in a specific manner. Following is a model for introductory remarks that might be made to choirs at the first class meeting. Because of it’s idealistic tone, it should be delivered with enthusiasm and sincerity, and with full expectation of the adolescentristic comments that may be made about it to the director and to each other. No matter how much adolescents pretend to cold-shoulder the recommendations of adults, down deep they realize the importance of a respected authority figure in their lives.
You are about to begin an experience of a lifetime! It will be an extraordinary experience, an experience that is different from any you have ever had. It may be so extraordinary that it will be different from any experience you ever will have again. I am going to be your guide through this wonderful experience. You will have to learn to follow me; you will have to learn to care for me; but most of all, you will have to learn to trust me. Without that commitment from you, the experience will only be ordinary. Together we can make it extraordinary.
In turn, I promise to care for you and guide you in the paths of those generations that have gone before us. I promise to give you full benefit of my years of university education. I promise to give you the advantage of the years of training I have had in guiding others through this amazing experience. I promise never to lead you astray, and I promise that when you are older, you will remember and cherish this incredible experience. In fact, it may be only then that you will come to realize that it was an experience of a lifetime.
There will be times when you may not feel the experience is extraordinary. In fact, occasionally you may think it to be downright impossible; for, you see, extraordinary experiences occur only when we have learned how to sacrifice. It is through the sacrifice that we develop the fortitude to fashion the extraordinary. It is through the sacrifice that we become competent even to recognize the extraordinary. Without sacrifice, our eyes are blind to the truly amazing.
*Singing is the gift, discipline is the way, and making music is the art. This will be our motto for the year. Let me try to explain the meaning of these words. We all have the ability to sing. We were born with it. Some say it is given by God. Others say we inherited it. That gift, however, is very much like an uncut diamond or crude oil. It has very little value in its original form. It must be forged, manufactured, and honed into something beautiful and useful.
That's where the second part of our motto takes effect. Discipline is the way. Only through discipline and sacrifice are we able to transform that gift of singing into something valuable that we can share with others or give back to God. We must take that simple gift of singing and apply to it choral technique, musicianship, and long hours of concentrated practice so that it will become valuable and useful to others.
Then, at that point, this wonderful gift, this magnificent process of making music, becomes an art. Art is our way of expressing life experiences in an extraordinary way. Artists have extraordinary experiences. When you become artists you, too, will have extraordinary experiences.
Beyond all this, you are going to be choral artists. Choral singers have a particularly unique way of expressing themselves because they become one big team and express themselves in a splendid, unified effort. In fact, there are very few teams in all society in which so many people join in such a superb, unified effort. There are very few teams that deal with such intricacies as do singers of choral music. Think of all the nuances and possibilities of the choral sound. The harmony, rhythm, melody, vocal color, dynamics, tempo, and text -- all come together in one remarkable happening. Beautiful, musically correct, and polished choral singing is surely as close as we will ever come, before death, to perceiving the truly ethereal.
Finally, as I mentioned, we can become artists only through discipline and sacrifice. I am going to teach you how to be disciplined so that you will be able to experience the extraordinary. At first, I will impose upon you much of what you will learn, but eventually, you will take control and you will impose the discipline upon yourself: You will become self disciplined. That will be our goal: to have a choir in which all the singers are highly motivated, well-trained, remarkable musicians.
Classifying Early Adolescent Voices
He believed that girls at this age were neither soprano nor alto in the adult sense of the word. He described their voices to be "rather thin, breathy, colorless and inclined to be sometimes shrill". With only a few exceptions he found most girls to have the same range, from B flat below middle C to top line F in the treble clef. He called them Soprano I and Soprano II and divided them equally into two groups each of which contained both experienced and inexperienced singers.
Classifying the boys' voices usually occurred at the beginning of each school year in a period of no more than fifteen minutes. He used the following procedure:
Step 1: If it was a mixed group, he requested all girls in the first several rows to stand and move to the rear of the room. The vacant places were then filled by boys who had been sitting in the back several rows after which the girls who had been standing at the rear were seated in the places vacated by these boys. If it was an all-male choir he just used steps two and three.
Step 2: He asked all boys to sing the chorus to Jingle Bells in unison. He pitched the key of D major, giving the beginning tone of F sharp. Immediately it became obvious that the boys were singing in octaves. Some of the boys were singing the chorus to Jingle Bells beginning on F sharp above middle C and others were singing the chorus beginning on F sharp below middle C. As the boys continued to sing he moved among them, touching on the shoulder or leg each boy who was singing the lower octave thus indicating that he was to stop singing. The boys singing the lower octave were boys in the second phase of change (adolescent baritones) and changed voices. Cooper indicated they should sing the baritone part. The boys singing the upper octave were boy trebles and boys in the first phase of change (cambiata). These boys who sang the lower octave were asked to be seated together as a group.
Step 3: He then instructed those boys who were singing the upper octave in the key of D (those were the ones who remained standing) to sing the chorus to Jingle Bells in the key of A flat with C as the beginning note. Again it was apparent the boys were singing in octaves, except for a few boys who had not discovered their voices and were singing incorrect pitches. Some of these boys were singing the chorus to Jingle Bells beginning on middle C and others were singing the chorus beginning on C, one octave above middle C. Once again he moved among the boys and touched on the shoulder of leg those boys who were singing the upper octave and asked them to stop singing. He continued until all voices singing the upper octave were eliminated. The boys singing the upper octave were unchanged voices (boy trebles who enjoyed using head phonation) and were designated to one of the treble parts. All other voices were cambiatas, uncertain singers, and boy trebles who enjoyed singing in chest phonation. He asked the uncertain singers to sing in the cambiata section for several rehearsals, giving them a chance to adjust to singing in that area of their voices (approximately the A to A octave around middle C). If after these several rehearsals the boys were still uncertain, he would give them individual attention to teach them proper manipulation of their vocal instruments (see Training the Uncertain Singer). After they had "found their voices," he made a correct classification and assigned them accordingly. All these voices were asked to be seated together as a group.
Step 3: Classifying the girls' voices was easy. He arbitrarily moved among the group, giving one girl the number 1 and the next girl the number 2. Then, in order to achieve equality, he seated the "ones" together, which he call the "blues" and the "twos" together, which he called the "greens."
The mistake many choral directors make involves improper classification of boys whose voices are in the second phase of change. Often mid-level directors attempt to treat these boys as would high school choral directors and divide them into tenors and basses. This results in some boys whose voices are in the second phase of change (having been classified as tenors) being mixed with boys whose voices are in the first phase of change (cambiata). This practice severely limits the vocal potential of the cambiata because music must be chosen which seldom goes higher than an E flat or F above middle C and he is never allowed to use his upper voice which contains some of his most beautiful tones. It is fine to call boys whose voices are in the first phase of change "tenors" (although choosing the term "cambiata" for these boys is becoming more prevalent) as long as the boys realize they are not the same as adult tenors, but one should never place boys in different phases of change all in the same group. All boys whose voices are similar to high school tenors and are already in the second phase of change should be combined with the changed voices and designated to the baritone part.
Cooper believed that early adolescent girls should not be classified as sopranos and altos but should be considered as having equal voices. He did not feel they had a true soprano or alto range and quality. In fact, he would ask the groups to swap parts, allowing one group to sing the upper part on one song and then the lower part on another while switching the other group to the opposite part. In his published arrangements he often wrote the melody in Part II so girls singing the upper part could learn to sing harmony, and vice versa. Mainly, however, it was important to him that these young women use the full compass of their voices to discourage the "I'm an alto" or "I'm a soprano" syndrome. For the most part, this practice eliminated the deplorable occurrence of young women developing an unmanageably wide passaggio due to overindulgence in "chest singing."
After the voices have been classified they may be taught an easy four-part song either by rote or with a copy of the music that is available to them online. There is no charge to print the piece. Since Jingle Bells was used to classify the voices, simply extend the use of Jingle Bells (Just click the title to access it) for the four-part song. Teachers may put line notation on the chalk/marker board or make teaching charts or transparencies of Parts I, II, & IV. Or the teachers may simply pass out copies of the piece and let the students read from them. More detailed information about how to teach music by rote is in the article Rote Teaching Melody-Part Style Music.
Here is the process (please do not use the piano until Step 9):
Step 1: Sing the first stanza up to the chorus to Part IV using the neutral vowel "lah" for the adolescent baritones. Then ask them to sing it with you. Repeat it a time or two until the singers are singing it relatively well.
Step 2: Sing the first stanza up to the chorus to Part II using the neutral vowel "lah" for the 2nd sopranos. Then ask them to sing it with you. Repeat it a time or two until the singers are singing it relatively well.
Step 3: Combine the two parts.
Sept 4: Sing the first stanza up to the chorus to Part I using the word "jingle" as it is written for the 1st sopranos. Then ask them to sing it with you. This part is a very easy and simple ostinato.
Step 5 Combine the three parts.
Step 6: Sing the melody of the 1st verse (Part III) of Jingle Bells to the cambiatas. Then ask them to sing it with you. Repeat it a time or two until the singers are singing it relatively well.
Step 7: Combine all parts.
Step 8 Use steps 1-7 above to teach the chorus.
Step 9: Sing the entire arrangement with the words and the piano accompaniment.
To hear all the parts separately and together, go to Jingle Bells.
Further details concerning early adolescent vocal/choral music education may be found in Don L. Collins' books, The Cambiata Concept, published by Cambiata Press, 1806 Bruce Street, Conway, Arkansas 72034 and Teaching Choral Music, 2nd edition, published by Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Different Ways Boys' Voices Change
Some boys move into the second phase of change (changing voice baritones) very rapidly, and because of the fast growth, they experience considerable difficulty in controlling the voice, particularly when asked to sing above middle C. Moving above middle C requires them to move through the passaggio, the "break" or "passage" between modal and head (falsetto) phonation. Because of the fast growth of the larynx during puberty, these young men's muscularity has not developed enough to control the vocal folds when the laws of physics require the folds to adjust so they can produce tones with higher frequencies (see vocal registers). Even when they talk, they suddenly lose control and the voice "cracks" into the falsetto area.
The fast growth of the larynx has an even more dramatic effect on still others. Some boys completely lose the ability to produce any sound at all above A (top line, bass clef) other than falsetto, and it takes several months after the rapid growth period for them to begin to produce these tones. Usually the low area of these adolescent boys' voices are very strong, and they often can sing down as far as two octaves below middle C. When singing falsetto, they often experience some freedom, but there is a wide gap (passaggio) between the falsetto and the modal voice and they are completely unable to produce tones directly around middle C. As their voices settle, they usually move up several tones before maturing. Often boys who experience this type of change have had very little singing experience before entering puberty or they have been required to maintain only head voice phonation after they began the fast growth spurt. This type of voice change often occurs in young men who have been singing in a boychoir with an instructor who is reluctant to release them from singing treble. We refer to these boys as "adolescent basses."
For other boys going through the mutational process, there is a period of time in which the vocal range of the modal voice is extremely limited, from middle C down to F (fourth line, bass clef). These boys are generally referred to as being "light baritones" or "new baritones." As the days and weeks pass, they will continue to add pitches to the lower area of the voice until they become full-fledged adolescent baritones.
Due to the individual ways boys voices change and, further, due to their varied comfortable singing areas, many teachers put all the boys together (all-boys groups) during the mid-level years so they will have at least three (and four, if possible) different parts from which to choose. In four-part mixed music (boys and girls together), there are at least two boys' parts from which to choose, an option significantly better than having only one part that all boys must sing (SABoys). This variability also accounts for the reason some composers and arrangers write optional notes in the baritone part when it moves above middle C for boys with the "gap" phenomenon, or below F (fourth line, bass clef) for "light" baritones.
Discipline in the Choral Classroom
This is not intended to be a thorough expose´ about administering discipline in the classroom. If you are looking for such a document, we recommend that you read Chapter 15, "Discipline is a Discipline," in Teaching Choral Music. The purpose of this little opus is to make two points which will be very beneficial if you are having difficulty motivating your students.
In some schools (particularly those in urban areas) where discipline is affected by the use of drugs, broken homes, incarcerated parents, racial tension, and poor socioeconomic conditions, teachers should seek professional help in learning how to control and motivate these students. Outside assistance from social workers and the district school superintendent's office is usually needed and should be provided. The following remarks relate to typical, mischievous, and fun-loving adolescents.
The first point is based upon a fundamental human need: Acceptance. Students must feel they are contributing to the activities of the class. They must feel they belong. The teacher's purpose for the class must be their purpose. Otherwise, they will go about finding a purpose which suits them better. Making a significant contribution precipitates that feeling of acceptance.
The primary reason students (particularly boys) have difficulty making a contribution to a mid-level choral situation is because, in most cases, their voices are changing. If many of notes they attempt to sing are either too high or too low thus creating vocal discomfort, it will be obvious to them that their contribution is minimal. Therefore it behooves the teacher to assure that they are singing in the comfortable singing area of the voice. It behooves the teacher to select music in which the students' range and tessitura have been given primary consideration. The music must we written for early adolescent singers, not pre-adolescence or adults.
The question is: Which voicing is best for choirs containing early adolescent voices -- unison, two, three, or four parts? The number of boys enrolled in the choir provides the answer. If there are numerous girls and only two boys, it is very difficult to perform four-part music. On the other hand, if there are numerous girls and at least four boys, directors may be surprised at how successfully the choir can sing four parts. Some directors are inclined to place all the boys (if there are as few as four) on one part and divide the girls into two groups (Soprano I and II), thinking that four boys can balance ten girls on each part better than two boys. If all four boys are cambiatas or if they are all baritones, that is sound logic; but if there are at least two cambiatas and two baritones, consider this reasoning. Contemplate the comfortable singing tessitura of both cambiatas (from A below middle C to A above middle C) and baritones (D, middle line in the bass clef up to D above middle C). If they sing together comfortably, they must sing a part that has an overall compass of A (top line, bass clef) upward to D (above middle C), only an interval of a fourth. Directors may choose a part that is written with an overall compass of F (fourth line, bass clef) to F (above middle C), which represents a composite overall range capability of both voices, a full octave which is the range found in more SABoys music. In either case, there are problems when the boys sing the part together. The part will keep the baritones in the upper area of their voices all the time, which causes vocal tension, poor intonation, and unhealthy vocal results. The same part will keep the cambiatas in the lower area of their voices all the time, which does not allow them to use the most comfortable and best-sounding tones of their vocal instruments, the tones of D (above middle C) upward to G. Therefore, none of the boys will be able to sing in the best area of his voice. Putting them together hampers both cambiatas and baritones. If the two cambiatas and two baritones are allowed to sing two separate parts written specifically for them, parts that permit the boys to use the most comfortable singing area and best tones of each, two boys are more likely to balance ten girls than are four boys who are hampered by the part they must sing. For that reason, early-adolescent choirs almost always will function better singing four parts rather than three, provided those four parts are written to accommodate to their vocal limitations. So, when boys are singing in the comfortable area of their voices, they will feel they are making a contribution to the classroom and the teacher will have fewer discipline problems.
The second point is centered around another indispensable human need: Love. This may sound very simple but in reality it is extremely profound. Teachers must love their students and they must love teaching music if they expect to motivate their students. But loving the students and the music is not enough. Teachers must be able to communicate that love to their students. If mid-level students understand that teachers' have their well-being in mind (really love them), the students will go to the end of the earth to please them. Mid-level students are quite capable of discerning a teacher's intent and if they perceive self-centeredness or a hidden agenda, they are likely to be revengeful and belligerent. Students usually will comply to various rules and regulations if they are convinced that they are for the students' well-being. If not, they have little compulsion to comply. So, if the students do not realize you love them, determine ways to communicate it to them – without hidden agendas.
In Teaching Choral Music, Dr. Collins offers some sage advice:In the more than thirty years I have been teaching, I have always made this point to each class of students who have taken my methods courses: "You do not have the right to stop teaching until after you have taught for at least three years. It takes that long to learn the discipline of discipline. There may be mornings you would rather stay in bed than face the difficulties of the day, but as each year passes and as you hone your skills of teaching discipline, those early-morning fears and frustrations gradually turn into feelings of satisfaction and pride. If you give up prematurely, you have relinquished a fundamental American right: the right to see your dreams fulfilled."If you are having discipline problems in your classroom, seek advice and assistance, address the problems, and find relief. Life it too short to dread and despise each day. Teaching is a very gratifying and enjoyable experience for most teachers. It can it be for you too!!
How to Choose Music Adolescents Can Sing
These young singers do not have adult voices; therefore, they should not be singing music written for adults. Difficulty is not the consideration here. Dr. Collins has conducted some early-adolescent choirs who were capable of singing difficult music better than many adults he has conducted. The music the adolescents sang, however, was written or arranged for their unique vocal limitations. Composers and arrangers who write music for adults do not consider the adolescent's unique vocal characteristics and limitations.
Years ago directors of early-adolescent choirs had no alternative but to attempt to sing music written for adults because publishers did not realize that early-adolescent choirs needed a unique type of literature. Now, leading composers, arrangers, educators, and publishers recognize the importance of supplying music written specifically for choirs in middle-level grades. Regrettably, they cannot agree on such important matters as (1) how to group the singers, (2) what to call the changing voices, (3) which clefs to use when writing the parts, and (4) how many parts early adolescent choirs should sing. Perhaps as our profession matures we will come to a consensus about these matters. Most of the music currently provided by American publishers for early adolescent choirs is worthy of consideration. However, even though publishers recommend their music for adolescent singers, directors must be careful to evaluate each piece they choose: The piece may not fit the singers' voices.
How can we know if we are choosing music that will present our choirs in the best light? In the form of a question-and-answer dialogue, important information relative to choosing music for early-adolescent singers is presented here. Read it with care.
Which is best for choirs containing early adolescent voices -- unison, two, three, or four parts? The answer to this question is elusive. The number of boys enrolled in the choir provides the answer. If there are numerous girls and only two boys, it is very difficult to perform four-part music. On the other hand, if there are numerous girls and at least four boys, directors may be surprised at how successfully the choir can sing four parts. Some directors are inclined to place all the boys (if there are as few as four) on one part and divide the girls into two groups (Soprano I and II), thinking that four boys can balance ten girls on each part better than two boys. If all four boys are cambiatas or if they are all baritones, that is sound logic; but if there are at least two cambiatas and two baritones, consider this reasoning. Contemplate the comfortable singing tessitura of both cambiatas (which is A below middle C to A above middle C) and baritones (which is D, middle line, bass clef up to D above middle C). Notice that if they sing together comfortably, they must sing a part that has an overall compass of A (top line, bass clef) upward to D (above middle C), only an interval of a fourth. Directors may choose a part that is written with an overall compass of F (fourth line, bass clef) to F (above middle C), which represents a composite overall range capability of both voices, a full octave. In either case, there are problems when the boys sing the part together. The part will keep the baritones in the upper area of their voices all the time, which causes vocal tension, poor intonation, and unhealthy vocal results. The same part will keep the cambiatas in the lower area of their voices all the time, which does not allow them to use the most comfortable and best-sounding tones of their vocal instruments, the tones of D (above middle C) upward to G. Therefore, none of the boys will be able to sing in the best area of his voice. Putting them together hampers both cambiatas and baritones. If the two cambiatas and two baritones are allowed to sing two separate parts written specifically for them, parts that permit the boys to use the most comfortable singing area and best tones of each, two boys are more likely to balance ten girls than are four boys who are hampered by the part they must sing. For that reason, early-adolescent choirs almost always will function better singing four parts rather than three, provided those four parts are written to accommodate to their vocal limitations.
Singing in two parts (cambiatas and baritones on one part and the girls on another) also creates the problem described above because any time the cambiatas and the baritones must sing together, neither can use the best tones of their singing instrument.
Unison and octave singing presents a similar problem if both cambiatas and baritones sing in the same octave. If directors find a unison piece that has an overall compass of D (above middle C) upward to A, the cambiatas can sing in unison with the girls and the baritones may sing an octave lower. Early adolescents cannot sing successfully in unison if the part moves above or below the D- to-A compass. Choosing to sing unison melodies with a range outside of the D-to-A compass usually causes the cambiatas to "flounder around," attempting to sing with the girls (a part that is too high) or to sing with the baritones (a part that is too low), neither of which allows them to be successful. They soon become altogether disenchanted with singing and start to disrupt the class because they realize that they are not making a significant contribution.
Is it possible to use SATB voicing with early-adolescent singers? It is possible but perhaps not practical. If directors are careful, they can find SATB music that early adolescents can sing successfully, provided (1) the soprano part does not move above F (top line, treble clef), (2) the alto part does not move below B-flat (below middle C) and has a relatively high tessitura, (3) the tenor part (which the cambiatas will sing) does not move below A (top line, bass clef) and has a relatively high tessitura, and (4) the bass part (which will be sung by the adolescent baritones) does not move below B-flat (second line, bass clef) or above D or E-flat (above middle C). Notice that the term successfully was used in the preceding sentence. The more a piece of SATB-voiced music adheres to the strict limitations described above, the more successful early adolescents will be when they try to sing it. When using SATB voicing, directors must scrutinize each part and select only music that adheres to the strict limitations described previously, if directors want to present their choirs at their best. The best solution is to choose music written specifically for early adolescents. From this point of view, choosing SATB-voiced music certainly is possible but may not be practical.
Is it possible for cambiatas to sing a part written for adult altos? It is possible, but again, perhaps it is not practical. Cambiatas will be quite comfortable singing an alto part that has a compass from A upward to A (below and above middle C). Directors must be careful not to choose a part that contains unison passages that require the cambiatas to sing with the sopranos because it will likely move above the comfortable singing tessitura of their voices. The primary problem directors have with cambiatas singing alto is not the boys' ability to sing the part; it is their gender. Labeling the part alto communicates "female" to the cambiatas, so automatically they assume that they should not and cannot sing it. To them, that part was written for a girl. Interestingly enough, if directors ask girls to join the boys in singing a cambiata part in SSCB voicing, the boys do not object so strongly. They think about the part as having been written for them; it is a male part even though the girls are helping them sing it. Cambiatas are capable of singing four-part music marked SSAB (one often finds this voicing in music written for the Moravians) or three-part music marked SSA if the alto parts meet the limitations described above and if directors are successful in persuading the boys to sing a part originally intended for a female. Three-, four-, and five-part choral music from the Renaissance period (English madrigals are the most prevalent) has a part usually designated by editors as alto (originally countertenors may have sung it), which is perfect for cambiatas. When examining this music, directors must be careful to choose an alto part with an A-to-A compass.
Will early-adolescent singers be successful singing SAB music? The answer to that question depends on what the B means. If it means baritone, and contains a part written for adult baritones or boys in the second phase of change, there will be no part for the cambiatas to sing; the baritone part will be too low for them. They may attempt to sing the alto part if directors are successful in persuading them to do so and provided it is limited to a compass of A to A. If the B stands for boys and contains a part with a compass of F (second line, bass clef) upward to D or E-flat (above middle C) then adolescent singers will be capable of singing it. The arguments against all boys singing together (described in the latter part of the first question in this section) are germane to SABoys voicings as well.
There is music on the market labeled Parts I, II, and III. Is this music written for adolescent voices? If so, which parts are the cambiatas and the baritones to sing? Music containing generic vocal designations are often written for adolescent voices but publishers use the nondescriptive labeling so that younger or older singers may sing them as well. Publishers are able to increase their octavo sales if they do not designate the parts for one specific type of clientele. Most of this music contains three parts (some of it has two or four parts). If the lowest of the three parts is written in the bass clef, usually it is intended for all adolescent boys (cambiatas and baritones combined) with the same limited range and considerations described for SABoys voicing. Quite often (if limited to the A-to-A compass), cambiatas, altos or both may sing Part II (the middle part), leaving Part III for the boys in the second phase of change (baritones). If Part III (the lowest part) is written in the treble clef, the arrangement is usually intended for SSA or SSC voicing and should be sung by choirs without adolescent baritones unless they sing one of the upper parts an octave lower.
Is there a specific process to determine how appropriate octavos may be for early-adolescent singers? Yes, as follows:
1. Look at each line of music in the octavo. Determine to which group of singers that part should be assigned, then ascertain if it is within the overall range of those singers. If all parts are within range, the octavo may be sung by adolescent voices, but the upper notes may be tensive and the lower notes may be weak, particularly if there is an abundance of them.
2. Look at each line of music in the octavo. Determine to which group of singers that part should be assigned; then ascertain if it is within the comfortable singing tessitura of those singers. If so, this octavo is highly recommended to be sung by adolescent voices if the text, difficulty, and articulation speed of the voices are appropriate.
3. If the octavo is designated for an SATB choir, assign the soprano part to the Soprano I section, the alto part to the Soprano II section, the tenor part to the Cambiata section, and the bass part to the adolescent Baritone section. Analyze it according to steps 1 and 2 above.
4. If the octavo is designated for an SSA choir, assign the soprano I part to the Soprano I section, the soprano II part to the Soprano II section and the alto part to the Cambiata section. Do not consider it suitable for a choir with adolescent baritones unless they could sing the soprano 1 part one octave lower. Analyze it according to steps 1 and 2 above.
5. If the octavo is designated for an SA choir, assign the soprano part to all the girls and the alto part to the cambiatas. Analyze it according to steps 1 and 2 above. Obviously, the octavo may be sung by girls only, if it fits their voices.
6. If the octavo is designated for an SAB choir, assign the soprano part to the Soprano I section, the alto part to the Soprano II section, and the baritone part to all the boys. If the boys' part is out of range and tessitura for cambiatas and adolescent baritones combined, consider the octavo in a different light. Assign the soprano part to all the girls, the alto part to the Cambiata section, and the baritone part to the adolescent Baritone section; then analyze it according to steps 1 and 2 above.
7. If the octavo has no vocal designations and refers to the parts by numbers (parts I, II, and III), with all parts being in the treble clef, assign part I to the Soprano I section, part II to the Soprano II section, and part III to the Cambiata section and analyze it accordingly. This type octavo also may be sung by an all-female choir. Assign part I to the Soprano I section, part II to the Soprano II section, and part III to the Alto section and determine if the parts are within the range and tessitura of adolescent girls.
8. If the octavo has no vocal designations and refers to the parts by numbers (parts I, II, and III), with part III being in the bass clef, assign part I to the Soprano section, part II to the Cambiata section, and part III to the adolescent Baritone section. If the octavo is out of range and tessitura using these assignments, check to see if it will work if part I is assigned to the Soprano I section, part II to the Soprano II section, and part III to all the boys (cambiatas and adolescent baritones combined), and analyze it accordingly.
9. If the octavo has no vocal designations, refers to the parts by numbers, and has four parts (with part IV in the bass clef), assign part I to the Soprano I section, part II to the Soprano II section, part III to the Cambiata section, and part IV to the adolescent Baritone section, and analyze it accordingly.
10. If the octavo is in unison, or has unison sections, its ease of use must be evaluated according to the composite unison-octave range (B-flat below middle C to C, one octave above) and tessitura (D to A above middle C) for changing-voice singers. If the boys' parts move into unison, or if the cambiatas are asked to sing with the girls, consider the composite unison range and tessitura.
I'm a Boy, How High Should I Sing?
Evidently the British are having difficulty recruiting boys to sing in their school choirs according to Dr. Martin Ashley, Reader in Education with Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire. According to Dr. Ashley, there has been a bit of backlash from most boys who think "singing high" exemplifies a lack of masculinity. The problem has become so severe that there are very few boys participating in their school choral programs. Most vocal music educators in Britain are "wringing their hands" but few are pro-active regarding the state of affairs. Dr. Ashley is determined to move beyond the "hand wringing" stage. He has two forthcoming books that may well interest U.S. choral music educators: Young Masculinity and Vocal Performance (80 000 word monograph, published by Edwin Mellen, December, 2008) and How High Should Boys Sing? (to be published by Ashgate late 2008). The latter relates to gender, authenticity, and credibility in boys' singing.
Through dialogue with Dr. Collins, Founder/Director of the Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America, Dr. Ashley has become convinced that music written for the Cambiata Concept is the solution in persuading British lads to find their voices once more. The approach to the early adolescent voice promulgated by Dr. Collins through the Cambiata Concept has given Dr. Ashley new hope in his crusade to revitalize singing with mixed choirs in the Isles. The dialogue began when Dr. Ashley read Dr. Collins' article, "Preferred Practices in Teaching Boys Whose Voices are Changing" (Choral Journal, Nov, 2006, available online) in which Dr. Collins advocates the Music Classroom Approach over the Boy Choir Approach for young men who have had minimal experience singing and who have a misunderstanding about the use of the voice as they move through vocal mutation.
If you, as a vocal music educator, are having difficulty recruiting young men to sing in your choirs, Dr. Ashley has devised a clever online cartoon presentation to help them understand what is happening to them as they mature in the upper elementary grades and move into mid-level. We are sharing it with you. Here it is -- it asks the question "I'm a boy, how high should I sing?" Share it with the boys in your choir and those who are contemplating joining.
Irvin Cooper, Originator of the Cambiata Concept
I don't remember the first time I met Irvin Cooper. I wish I could. It must have been during the fall of 1967. I'm surprised that I don't remember. He was not the type one would easily forget. Physically, he was striking- strikingly peculiar. He was rather short, stocky, and broad. He had a marvelously rotund stomach and at his age (he was around 67 when I first encountered him) his walk, or better still, his gait was reminiscent of an overweight banty rooster who had stuffed his craw so full he was about to tip over. All he needed was a red suit and white beard to make the perfect midget Santa Claus. And he smoke a pipe-that infernal pipe! As a graduate student I had a briefcase, which I carried almost ten years after I left Florida State University. I opened it so many times in his presence that ten years later when I opened it, I could still smell the odor of stale, stagnant, burned tobacco. Ten years later!
He had a philosophy about that pipe. He smoked it for pleasure, but that was not the only reason. He once told me that every creative person should smoke a pipe. He believed that pipe smoking precipitated the flow of creative juices. It was, what I considered at that time, my doleful duty to take three trimesters of choral and instrumental arranging under his tutelage. (Over a hundred published arrangements and compositions later, that doleful duty has become my deep delight.) Cooper taught arranging sitting at his desk and all of his ardent, avid, ambitious students stood around the desk as he fastidiously dissected our glowing works of art we called arrangements. If he found places that were particularly horrible, and that was quite often, he would, as duty demanded, rewrite that particular part. This was no chore for him because he was generally "Johnny on the spot" with a multitude of creative ideas. Occasionally, however, the creative juices would not flow and this was when the pipe ritual would begin.
In silence we would remain with our heads huddled around his desk. He would reach into his pocket and remove an antiquated, moth-eaten, dark brown, wrinkled pouch of malodorous, fusty tobacco. With our heads still huddled around his desk, his pipe would be filled with tobacco and pressed down with his pinky-several times. Then from his desk drawer would be sheathed a small, metal object with a flat head and as if his pinky were completely unsuitable he would continue to pack the tobacco with the head of the pipe packer, having, of course, continuously to fill the pipe with more tobacco as it was packed down.
With our head still huddled around his desk, from his pocket would come his cigarette lighter, a decorative gadget of which he was quite proud. After several inefficacious flicks which produced sparks but no flame, he would laboriously search his desk for the lighter fluid. With our heads still huddled around his desk, he would fumble through his pockets for a dime which served as a screwdriver to open the bottom of the lighter in order to squirt the fluid into the cotton packing. If he missed the hole, the fluid would spray wildly onto the desk. With luck it would not spoil the choral arrangement that was spread before him. Occasionally one's pants would become flammable as a result of his poor aim. After much travail the lighter would become operative and he would commence to light his pipe. Within a matter of seconds a suffocating cloud of smoke would engulf us. NO LONGER would we remain with our heads huddled around his desk. With "jack-in-the-box" reflexes, each of us would surface for air.
Then, almost as if he were being mesmerized into some tranquil state, he would lean back in his chair, rock gently, puff slowly, and think silently. Shortly he would proclaim ecstatically, "Oh, I know what we should do here" and he would take up his pen and rewrite that particular part of the arrangement with the stroke of genius. The new idea was always extremely good, and if we commented on that fact, he would gingerly say: "Your's would be too, if you smoked a pipe!
After four fruitful years of erudition with the master I received both masters and doctorate degrees in music education from Florida State. Immediately, I accepted a music education position at the University of Central Arkansas and spent the remainder of my life validating and promulgating the many wise ways of working with adolescent youngsters I learned from the master himself.
I don't smoke a pipe, but when I think about my old briefcase and mentally smell that stale tobacco, I'm reminded of my destiny. All of us who have worked, or will work, with adolescent singers have been influenced by Irvin Cooper and his contributions through the Cambiata Concept. Those contributions have made our work much easier. He often said in order to be successful in teaching youngsters of the middle years, "one must believe completely in what he (or she) is doing and have an undying love for adolescents." It is a special calling, but only those of use who have answered the call really know!
The Light Baritone
With other boys moving from cambiata to adolescent baritone is not nearly so dramatic. The point where the passaggio occurs will gradually move downward and the boys will lose the upper pitches of chest phonation as the voices change.
With both of these type mutational processes just described, there will be a period of time when the upper pitches are gone but the young men are yet to add the lower pitches. Some will not be able to sing lower than F below middle C and it will be a struggle to move above middle C. These young men, often called light baritones, are no longer able to sing the cambiata part with ease, and neither are they capable of singing the baritone part well because they don't have the lower pitches. In which section, then, should they be placed?
The boys who have added pitches down to D below middle C and find that their only difficulty is producing the upper pitches in chest phonation definitely should be placed with the baritones. It is surprising how much difference only a pitch or two will make. Many cambiatas are able to sing down to the E or F below middle C but very few sing the D which will sound more like an anemic burp. Some arrangers will add optional pitches in the baritone part for these young light baritones to sing if the part moves below the D.
If the process of change is the type described in the first paragraph above, even though the boys have not added any pitches below E or F, they also should be assigned to the baritone section because it is important that they not be required to move upward through the passaggio over and over when singing, which would be required of them if they were singing the cambiata part. Constantly dealing with the passaggio causes them to force the chest phonation too high resulting in cracking, tensive singing, and poor intonation, plus it causes them to develop many bad vocal habits which they will have to overcome later in life. They should use the pitches below the passaggio so these pitches will gain strength and stability. It is to be hoped there will be optional pitches for them to sing when the part goes too low. If instructors have light baritones in their choir, they should choose music with the optional notes. A good example of the type voice part for which to look is found in the baritone part of Ride the Chariot (click the title to see the part). If teachers choose music without optional notes in the baritone part, they should take a few moments to write these notes in each boy's printed score. Since music educators are often pressed for time, the tendency is to ignore chores such as this, which in this case leaves the boys to fend for themselves. Please understand -- keeping boys engaged in the choral-making process at this precarious time in their lives is the greatest gift teachers can give them. When boys feel superfluous and when they feel they are not making a contribution to the choir, teachers have lost them! If there is no part available that they can sing well, they feel they are of no value to the choral-making process.
Thankfully some boys do not experience such dynamic mutational problems. Their voices move smoothly and easily downward and they simply transfer from one section to the next as their voices change without the cracking and tensive singing which often occurs with some light baritones. It helps if the young men have been taught good vocal technique while boy trebles. Good breath control, proper placement, purity of vowels, and ease in singing go a long way in lessening the anxiety experienced by these young men. Further, this decisive period of time when the boys are experiencing these problems is usually rather short, another reason to be grateful. Within a month or so these boys' voices become more stable and the new lower notes are added to make singing more enjoyable.
The Male Changing Voice In High School
Teachers have a responsibility for the students' psychological well-being, and if the students are content in their role in the choir, teachers have fulfilled that responsibility. Taking particular care to find music in which those students can make a maximum contribution goes a long way toward ensuring the students' contentment. If SATB music is used, teachers should be careful to select that which administers to the needs of the cambiatas. If there are places in the alto or tenor part that move beyond the A-to-A octave recommended for the cambiatas' successful contribution, teachers should edit the part so that the students will be successful in singing it. Boys in the second phase of change (adolescent baritones) should receive careful consideration as well. Placing them on a tenor part that requires them to use the upper part of their range extensively will result in tension and misuse of the vocal instrument. Often the bass part lies too low for comfortable singing. Here again, if SATB music is used, teachers should take time to edit whatever part the adolescent baritones are singing to enable them to sing in the comfortable area of their voices, the D-to-D octave.
A practice that is becoming more and more in vogue is the use of Soprano I, Soprano II, Cambiata, Baritone (SSCB) music for groups containing changing voices in high school, particularly if there is an abundance of girls and few boys. Since probably there will be only a few cambiatas, it is quite acceptable to place high school altos on the cambiata part to maintain balance. This is not detrimental to the young female singers provided they are allowed to use their upper voices with other literature. The A-to-A octave is similar to the range of many alto parts in Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (SATB) music. It is important to continue to refer to the part as cambiata for the psychological well-being of those boys who might be singing it. Altos are not nearly as concerned about being asked to support the cambiatas as the cambiatas are about being called altos. The remainder of the girls are to be divided into first and second sopranos, and all the boys in the second phase of change (adolescent baritones) and changed voices (high school tenors and basses) will sing the baritone part that, with a few exceptions, stays within the D-to-D octave. Using SSCB vocal classification in high school for groups with changing voices and a preponderance of girls results in four-part singing with a much more satisfactory balance than using music voiced SATB or Soprano, Alto, Bass (SAB) but most important, it administers to the needs of the changing voices in the group.
Middle-Level Uni-Gender Choirs
In America all-male and all-female choirs have not always been as popular as mixed groups. The women's rights movement has discouraged segregation, and the dearth of men who want to sing has forced most who do to sing in mixed choirs. The pioneer heritage and spirit forged during America's developmental years has fostered an attitude among the populace that singing is not masculine and should be relegated strictly to women; a syndrome which is difficult to find in many other cultures. This "pseudo-machismo" is unfortunate indeed because so many American men and boys never fulfill the aesthetic needs in their lives and are hindered in becoming truly self-actualized individuals.
Throughout the nation, directors are finding that in the middle-level grades, singing in uni-gender choirs is highly advantageous over mixed choirs. Scheduling uni-gender choirs in many middle-level vocal programs may be born out of necessity rather than because of the innate importance of such groups. Consideration for the maturation level of the students is one reason for separating the girls from the boys. The two groups, although they may have the same number of years since birth, certainly do not have the same interests, particularly in each other. Physically, most young women are at least two inches (and sometimes as many as four inches) taller than the young men. Young women at this age are generally more interested in high school age guys, whereas most of the young men are clustered into all-male social activities and organizations. In other words, the girls are more mature than the guys in the mid-level grades.
Since the middle-level grades are the years in which most boys experience vocal mutation, the more options (available parts) teachers have from which to choose in placing the boys in sections, the more likely the boys will be comfortable and productive in the singing process. The importance of keeping the boys singing in the comfortable singing tessitura of their voices during the period of high mutation cannot be over emphasized. A more definitive explanation as to why it is important to utilize the comfortable singing tessitura of boys voices may be found in the article entitled Tenets of the Cambiata Concept. Putting two or three grades of boys together (usually 7th, & 8th; 6th, 7th, & 8th; or 7th, 8th, & 9th) affords three or four parts (CCB, CBB or CCBB) from which teachers may choose when searching for a part in the music with a comfortable singing area for various boys to sing.
If school or church protocol calls for unigrade classes, directors may choose to teach the grades separately, then combine them for concert or worship services. Although taught separately, combining the boys and girls to sing four-part mixed music (boys and girls singing SSCB voicing together), is significantly better than having only one part that all boys must sing (SABoys), since there are at least two boys' parts from which to choose in the SSCB voicing.
Like directors of all-male choruses, directors of all-female choruses in middle-level and high school encounter problems in meeting the needs of the girls' young voices. It is very rare to find a true, natural alto among adolescent singers. Directors are inclined to place those students who are good readers on the inner and lower parts. Girls who are consistently relegated to the lower parts will never develop the upper (head voice) part of the range and soon will be complaining that they cannot sing high. It is important to vocalize the girls throughout the full compass of the voice, which often takes them up to a high B-flat or C (above the treble clef). Further, it is advisable to switch parts on some of the literature so that the "altos" will have an opportunity to use the upper regions of the voice. Directors must be very careful to select literature that does not keep the lower voices around middle C or below all the time. Choose literature that includes some unison singing for the girls so that they all may sing throughout the full compass of their ranges.
Motivating the Hesitant Singer
One of the difficulties teachers face when attempting to teach a group of general music students or students in the beginning choir to sing is knowing how to deal with the hesitance the young singers display toward the vocal process. When early adolescents have not had experience singing in a church choir or an elementary school music class, they may think that they are unable to sing or they may exhibit tremendous self-consciousness about the singing voice. They may even refuse to sing at all. It is extremely frustrating for teachers, particularly when they are beginning the art of teaching, when either the students refuse to respond to their directions or the response is so anemic that the process is unfruitful. How does one persuade these fearful students to sing?
Historically there has been a mystique about the singing voice. The Romantics believed that only the highly gifted could sing, that singing was a special ability that only "the chosen" enjoyed. Occasionally, particularly if students come from a family in which no singing occurs, they truly believe that they are "non-singers," but in most cases this belief relates to their adolescent inhibitions. The best way to combat this self-consciousness is to begin to train their voices. Teaching singers how to use the breath will open the voice dramatically. And teaching them how to place the voice using proper oral and nasal resonance will give the voice carrying power which makes it appear to be much stronger even when the singer is using less vocal energy (see Chapter 11, "Proper Vocal Technique" in Teaching Choral Music, 2nd ed., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1999, pp. 211-233). Sadly, the non-musical demands required of choral instructors in their daily schedules do not leave much time for intensive vocal instruction. But just a few moments of well-informed, teacher-assisted and student-concentrated vocal instruction at the beginning of the rehearsal will work miracles toward increasing the choral dynamo of early adolescent voices.
Before embarking on the process with mid-level students, however, one may need to break down the barrier of resistance by opening their minds and helping them to see that singing is an ordinary process that all people can enjoy. When students take math class, they do not resist being taught how to deal with certain equations. In English they learn verbs, nouns, and pronouns with little resistance. The process of singing is no more mysterious than these other academic subjects. Singing in general music class or mid-level choir does not, at the beginning, require a highly defined degree of proficiency. The students should be brought to understand that the actual activity of music making is more important than worrying about how beautifully they sing. The more they sing, the more beautiful their singing becomes, particularly once they have been taught the correct way to do it. Teachers should do all they can to help the young singers to realize what a rewarding activity singing can be. Teachers might even want to devise a motivational presentation similar to the one in the article entitled "The Challenge and Rewards of Choral Singing" that will stimulate acceptance of the singing process. Once they realize how good they can be, the teacher is over the hump toward rewarding and exciting singing.
Music Should be Performed, but Not Performance Driven
Music educators must consider the primary purpose of beginning early adolescent classes and choirs. The Cambiata Concept advocates that vocal/choral music should be performed, but it should not be performance driven. The principal principle pursued should be the educational goal of the class. After the singers become respectable musicians, the emphasis of the class may center around their performance responsibilities. Teachers should have two basic goals for the membership of the Beginning Choir: (1) to learn to read music and develop basic musicianship, and (2) to master the fundamental principles of good vocal/choral technique. Specific behavioral objectives might be to:
Develop vocal skills.
Learn to sing in tune with good tone quality.
Develop sufficient skill in reading music to carry a part independently.
Learn to use and understand basic music terms.
Perform a wide variety of suitable, artistic music within the range and textual understanding of the students.
Develop a sense of how to sing in harmony first through melody-part style music (easy polyphony) then through music with harmonic structure (easy homophony).
Gain a knowledge and an understanding of choral works.
Identify basic musical forms.
Develop discrimination in listening.
Develop a degree of refined artistic interpretation of the different musical styles and moods.
Activity in class should include:
Teaching a structured, sequential method of sight reading based on numbers or syllables without the assistance of the piano.
Teaching a structured, sequential method of vocal technique that is supported with proper vocal exercises.
Initially teaching literature that is written in a melody-part style, then moving to literature that has harmonic orientation.
Singing choral literature (preferably four parts, if possible) designed for adolescent voices that supports the principles of good choral technique and promotes good vocal health for both male and female singers.
Stressing in-tune singing by using proper vocal exercises and by using acappella literature to reinforce the need to be tuneful.
Developing precision in attacks and releases and working for clear, distinct diction, proper balance, and blend.
Developing skill at subordinating an inner or supporting part of another line in music.
Frequently testing boys' voices to determine proper classification and to diagnose and correct any difficulties.
Listening discriminately to students' voices for tone quality, pitch, articulation, and ability to blend.
Using small-ensemble singing (octets and quartets) to strengthen students' independence.
Providing solo opportunities for selected students.
Introducing the principles of Latin diction and reinforcing the correct Latin vowel sounds with vocal exercises.
Teaching a degree of musical sensitivity and awareness of dynamics, tempo, phrasing, style, and mood.
The beginning choir, whether it is in middle-level or high school, is composed of singers with unique voices. Both males and females will be in various stages of puberty (before, during, and after). Their voices are changing and maturing. It is important to consider the range and tessitura limitations of their voices in all aspects of their choral experiences during these years. Proper voice classification is essential to successful singing with these young students. Directors should be very careful not to designate the girls as true sopranos or altos but allow each girl to vocalize throughout the entire compass of her voice and interchangeably to sing both soprano I and soprano II (alto) parts in the literature or singing literature with two equal parts.
Pertaining to scheduling, there are those who suggest that the beginning choir should meet only twice weekly or every other day. Much can be accomplished with such a meeting schedule, and it still affords the singers opportunities to explore other areas of the program. However, the beginning choir truly is the training organization of the sequential program and it is important that as much musical foundation building be done during the year(s) as possible. If scheduling will accommodate it, daily classes are recommended.
In devising a seating plan for the beginning choir, it is important to consider placing the singers in sections according to the phases of their voice change. Treble boys (unchanged) are seldom happy sitting with the girls even though they might be singing the same part. It is best to place them with the cambiatas (boys in the first phase of change) but near the girls with whom they will be singing. Because it is necessary always to be aware of the progress of the boys' vocal mutation, directors should place the fellows in sections (trebles, baritones, tenors, and cambiatas) in front and center of the choir so the director can move among them as they sing. The girls may be placed behind and to each side of them.
Whether or not the beginning choir serves as a performing organization is optional depending upon the desires of the director and the occasions that might be available. As mentioned previously, performance should not be a priority goal of the members of the beginning choir. It should be used only to motivate the students to learn to sing well and become good musicians and it should be limited to one or two occasions during the year.
Teachers seem to look forward to the period(s) in the day when they work with their advanced group(s). It is very easy to foster the attitude that the advanced groups are more important than the beginning and intermediate groups, but doing so is very detrimental to the success of a sequential choral program. In reality, the beginning choir could be considered more important, because it is in that group that students learn the most important aspects of good choral technique and musicianship. It is their dedication to the beginning choir that enables directors to reap the great satisfaction and musical rewards from the advanced groups. Students will sense any partiality shown toward the advanced groups, and that will hamper their progress as members of the beginning choir. Singers in the beginning group will feel second best. Master teachers will make the group with whom they are working at any period in the day feel that it is the most important group in the choral program.
The New Adolescent Bass
There is a dramatic type voice change which occurs with some boys. Directors may encounter a few young men who appear to have moved completely through the voice change from boy trebles down to adolescent basses in a period of two to three months (usually over the summer). These young men may have a range of about F (below the bass clef) upwardly to F (fourth line, bass clef). When asked to move above the F (this pitch may vary slightly, depending upon the boy), it seems as if the voice is locked and can go no higher in modal phonation. They may have nice high voice phonation with the ability to sing with ease notes in falsetto upwardly from F (first space, treble clef) to F (top line, treble clef) or even higher. But the ability to phonate in falsetto seems to bottom out around the lower F (first space, treble clef). The pitches in the vicinity of middle C between approximately F (fourth line, bass clef) and F (first space, treble clef) are not present. They have this terrific gap in the voice with several pitches absent, possibly as many as an octave.
Often these young men have not had singing experience prior to the onset of puberty. There are known cases where they never used their treble voices as singing instruments. Therefore, it may be assumed that the presence and width of the gap is exacerbated because the muscles controlling phonation for the purpose of singing were never exercised and trained. Maybe these young men were coerced by a friend, or they noticed that the choir contained good looking girls; whatever the reason, they decided to join the choir after the onset of puberty. It is most likely that this type of voice change is predominantly genetic. At this point in time, research needs to be done to determine exactly why the gap occurs. With or without the facts, the reality is that they are an obvious presence in the choir and it is the director's responsibility to teach them.
Usually these type voices change occurs with boys whose vocal maturation is fast. That is the good news because they should begin to add the upper pitches (using modal phonation) rather quickly, one at a time. The director simply must be patient. In the meantime, consider the following:
- Keep them singing, using the comfortable pitches in their individual ranges. Vocal rest only extends the maturation process.
- At cadence points when the baritone part is written soh down to doh, teach these young men to sing the soh an octave lower (they will sing soh up to doh). When, at cadence points, the baritone part is written soh up to doh, teach them to sing doh an octave lower (they will sing soh down to doh).
- Most importantly, when the baritone part moves above the F (fourth line, bass clef) pencil some optional notes in his printed music that are comfortable for them within the F to F octave. Sometimes, writing those notes in the part one octave lower will work, and it sounds okay for the most part. If this does not render a satisfactory sound, pencil in the third or the fifth of the chord for them to sing, whichever one is best suited for each individual range.
- Finally, read Chapter Ten, "Proper Vocal Technique for Adolescent Voices" (pages 184-204) in the book, Teaching Choral Music (Click on the title for more information about the book's contents and reviews. It may be obtained from a favorite bookstore or music dealer, or it may be available from the local public library.) (Don L. Collins, 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 1999.) Establishing good breath control and resonance will be most helpful for these young men at this point in their maturation process. Good vocal technique will be helpful for all choir members in freeing their voices in the upper areas of their comfortable singing ranges (it is best not to attempt to extend the boys ranges during the height of the mutation process, just keep them singing comfortably until they get through this stage of their maturation.) Range extension is okay with the girls at this age, with limits.
- Passing upwardly through the passaggio (from modal voice into falsetto) is very difficult, if not impossible for them. The "blank spot" around middle C is manifested because the vocal folds will not come together in modal phonation (possibly due to the fast growth) resulting in a very wide passaggio (passage) which is extremely difficult to negotiate. Hence it is important to keep them singing in modal phonation where it is comfortable. Asking them to move from modal phonation into falsetto usually results in the voice breaking or cracking. It is not recommend to vocalize boys in falsetto phonation until their voices have begun to settle after maturation which may be as late as their junior year in high school with some boys. In other words, for these boys who are experiencing this more dramatic type change, the technique of beginning an exercise in falsetto and singing downwardly through the passaggio is only helpful after their voices have settled . Exercises beginning in falsetto should only be used with boys who have been trained as treble singers, and with boys whose voices change smoothly and move gradually downwardly (and who experience minimal cracking and breaking). Many directors refrain from using this technique altogether until they are assured that the voices have settled.
Only One Adolescent Baritone?
It has become more and more common with choirs containing changing voices to have only one adolescent baritone particular if the group does not contains eighth or ninth graders. Or, one may have two or three adolescent baritones but they are not strong enough musicians to constitute a section in itself. The difficulty is more crucial when one or more of these boys are adolescent basses.
How does one administer to the needs of these boys so they can contribute to the choir and, more importantly, feel good about their contribution? There are other solutions, but the best solution is simple: recruit more boys! This statement may seem flippant to those who are struggling with this difficulty, but in reality it truly is the best solution and directors owe it to these boys to attempt to build a strong enough section to administer to their individual needs and the needs of the choir as a whole.
You may have noticed that when the adolescent baritone(s) sings with the cambiatas on a part within the range of both (about F to D around middle C), the part is too high to be comfortable for the adolescent baritone(s) and too low to use the best notes of the cambiatas. This difficulty is described in more detail in the article Singing Two Parts with Male Mid-Level Students. As the article indicates, one needs at least two adolescent baritones to accomplish two-parts for the boys with success. Here are two suggestions: (1) If the adolescent baritone is a strong singer he may attempt the adolescent baritone part alone. He may not be able to balance the others, but he will be happy because the part is comfortable to sing. Or (2) one may perform two- or three-part music and let the adolescent baritone(s) double one of the girl's parts 8va down. If he is an adolescent bass, he may even temporarily attempt the cambiata part 8va down until his voice stabilizes. The first solution above is the best solution for a good choral sound. Boys singing girls' parts 8va down is not as chorally satisfactory but it administers to their personal needs.
As mentioned previously, using music that all boys (both cambiatas and adolescent baritones) may sing together in unison seems to be a solution for some directors and teachers, however unsatisfactory the results may be. As the article above indicates, this approach limits the vocal possibilities for both cambiatas and adolescent baritones because neither group is able to use their comfortable singing area. It is more important to put them on a part where they may sing comfortably, so they will feel they are making a contribution to the choral process. If they don't feel they are contributing, ultimately they may drop choir so one runs the risk of permanently eliminating them from the choral process for life. Teaching and supporting a lifetime of singing should be the ultimate goal.
Recruiting Boys to Sing in Choir
In certain parts of the country, some still consider singing to be effeminate, an image that directors must strive to destroy. Often, boys are not aware of the many very masculine role models who are singers. Wise directors will ensure that the boys in their school know about them.
Boys who attempt singing for the first time in mid-level grades may become discouraged because of the frustrations their changing-voice problems cause them. These frustrations do not have to occur, particularly if the directors understand the changing voice and select choral literature that accommodates it. Look at the clever cartoon presentation entitled I'm a Boy, How High Should I Sing? Invite the boys in your choir and those considering joining choir to view it. It will help them understand their changing-voice uncertainties.
Further, empirical knowledge verifies that boys in mid-level grades are more inclined to consider singing if the choir in which they enroll is all-male. There are some very fine mixed choirs in mid-level schools, but many of them are a result of strong, well-established programs. Teachers beginning new programs will have more success recruiting boys if they place them in a group together instead of mixing them with the girls.
Adolescent boys are inclined to enjoy choral music more if directors treat them as if they were men (even though directors know that on numerous occasions they will revert to their childhood behavior). Directors should be careful to choose language that promotes masculinity. Talk about masculine topics and be positive and authoritative when relating to them. Choose literature that relates to the boys' masculinity. Certainly, men should learn to relate to the finer, more artistic, and more aesthetic aspects of life, but possibly this should be a growth process that begins with young singers once they feel confident in their masculinity and once they have committed themselves to the choral program.
One may relate the ability to recruit fine singers directly to the image the directors and their choirs convey to the general student body. It does very little good to beseech individuals to sign up for choir if they do not have an earnest desire to do so. Directors must create that compelling yearning within the students by helping them to perceive their choral involvement as "the thing to do," just as a campaign manager directs the public to perceive a candidate as the one who is right for the job. It is strictly a public relations challenge. That compelling yearning to be involved in choir must be greater than the yearning to be involved in industrial arts, visual arts, athletics, or any of the many options (elective courses and activities) open to the students.
Peer pressure to conform and the need to be part of the "in crowd" are two of the strongest drives adolescents experience. With several options available to students, directors must ensconce choral singing as the best class to elect. Once choir has that image, the number of students who will enroll will take care of itself. Usually, the challenge extends beyond the perimeters of the secondary campus. If students do not participate in choral music, it may be due to parents' negative attitudes or students may not participate because singing was unacceptable in the elementary grades and that attitude carries over into mid-level and secondary school. As a result, directors must begin to create that compelling yearning to be in choir before the students reach mid-level or secondary school. Thus, for future security, image building begins at their place of current employment for immediate enrollment, and in the home and in the elementary schools for future enrollment.
How, then, do directors create in students that compelling yearning to be in choir? Create a choral situation and environment that will be appealing to adolescent singers. This can be done by developing the best performing organization possible with the singers now enrolled. Adolescents do not want to be in a choir that is not good.
Sing some literature (but certainly not all literature) that appeals to adolescents who do not understand choral music. Choosing this type literature should not have to continue after the numbers begin to grow. At that point, the emphasis of the director shifts to choosing literature with strong educational, artistic, and aesthetic value in order to give the students the ability to be critical music makers their entire lives.
Place pertinent information about choir and choir members on bulletin boards throughout the school (including those in the choir room). Directors must design this information to capture the attention of the adolescent. Use adolescent means of expression by choosing words that are in vogue. Include attractive artwork in the style of popular cartoon strips and characters.
Give choral music awards to the singers at the annual awards assembly. The choral program should have equal status with athletics and other elective subjects. Make announcements (at least every week or two) during the morning announcement period. This will keep the choral program in the minds of the students. Write the announcements in the current language of the adolescent. Be innovative and clever.
If all of society, and the teaching profession in particular, viewed the discipline of choral music as a required academic study, it would not be necessary to recruit students or so zealously to apprise the school faculty, the administration, the school board and the general public of the activities of the choral organizations. Since such is not the circumstance in America now, music educators need to be both super salespersons and public relations executives to survive. If the truth were known, one might find that there are very few professional choral teachers who have never secretly (and sometimes openly) longed for a time when all they had to do was to teach music. Concerns about the security of their position based on the number of students they have enrolled, whether the school board will allocate money for a choral music instructor next year, the parents' critical response to their last program, the choirs' ratings at the last contest, and so forth enervate them and sap them of energy, strength, and stamina that they should apply to the business of teaching. Because of the current conditions and the image of music education in the American mind, educators must train themselves in the crafts of sales, public relations, and publicity. Those who fail to attend to those issues soon find themselves in a different profession.
Directors should never give up in their quest to help everyone understand that the study of choral music is an academic discipline. It is not solely an entertainment entity. It is not an extracurricular activity. It is not a time for a break so that the students can get away from the "real" disciplines. It is just as important to life as math and science. Without it and the other arts, one would not be a totally fulfilled individual. Until society understands that, we must be super salespersons and public relations experts. We must help the public to see the importance of music and to understand why our teaching responsibilities are essential to fulfilled living.
Rote Teaching Melody-Part Style Music
When students are experiencing three- and four-part music for the first time, they will have more success if the parts they are singing are melodies. It is very disconcerting for young singers when, upon trying to "harmonize" for the first time, they find themselves singing the established melody (probably the Soprano I part) or some part other than their own. They have difficulty "hearing" their part when it contains many repeated notes and no melodic contour. Directors will have more success with part singing in the Beginning Choir if they choose music written in melody-part style.
Common practice of rote teaching in most American schools is to pass the music out and, taking sections one at a time, to play each part on the piano and ask the students to sing what they hear. Often the instructor will sing the part as it is played. After several repetitions alert adolescents are capable of listening to the piano and singing the part even though they may have difficulty when combining it with the other parts. With a few more repetitions they practically have the part memorized. At this point, the students, particularly the boys, find very little purpose for the printed music, and they set about using it to satisfy that insatiable desire they have to "piddle" with something. Eventually, the corners will be torn off and it may be rolled up, stomped on, used as a paper airplane, or any other creative destruction their fertile minds can conjure up.
Consider an alternative approach to rote teaching. Two components in the preceding description are not essential: the printed music and the piano. Because adolescents develop a dependence on the piano that is detrimental to the process of learning to read music, the practice of using it as a teaching instrument is discouraged; in fact, it slows the process. If the piano is used constantly to support the singers, soon they will depend on it for security in singing. If they are required to sing their parts without the piano, they soon learn to depend on their listening ability and voice for support. Since they do not know how to read the printed music, why give it to them? Why not sing the melodies to them and ask the students to sing them back? Since all the parts written in melody-part-style music are melodies, the adolescents grasp them very quickly and are able to sing them correctly almost after one hearing. Further, the use of line notation that is written on the board, on transparencies, or on teaching charts can be greatly accelerate the learning process. Rote teaching in this fashion dictates that the instructors be able to sing each of the parts correctly, and line notation assists them as much as it does the students. Singing the parts together acappella greatly quickens the students' ability to tune the chords and develop a sense of musical independence.
When teaching by rote, stand the singers in sections in four distinct areas of the room. Be sure there is enough separation between the groups so that each group is slightly isolated from others. The melody each group is singing needs to predominate in that area of the room. It is important that each group be able to hear the others but not as well as they hear themselves. The groups should be facing the board or the area where the transparency is being projected. If teaching charts are used, place the chart for each group on a music stand in front of them. If there is a need to turn the charts in the middle of the arrangement, designate one of the less exuberant singers for that responsibility. Be sure the ones turning the charts are not the type who enjoy entertaining the other students, or they will disrupt the choral process and make a production out of the turning process.
There is no set order in which the parts should be taught to the singers. The basic rule of thumb is to teach first the part that is the most melodious. If all the parts are equal, teach the baritone first to set the foundation for the tonality. Always teach the established melody last.
It is important that teachers know each part well and that they be able to sing it with confidence. During their preparation time, if one particular phrase or note seems difficult, they should master it completely before attempting to teach the singers. The students will sense any hesitation or insecurity on the part of the teacher, and it will affect the students' sense of assurance as they sing the melody back to the teacher. Teachers should not dwell on chromatic tones or point them out. The singers do not analyze the non-diatonic character of the tones and probably will not recognize them as being foreign to the key. They will recognize them as being at home in their melody, and that is how such tones should be approached.
Analyze each part and determine if it should be taught as a whole, one phrase at a time, or more than one phrase at once. A phrase with a strong cadence point or one that is repeated should be taught alone. If a phrase leads to the following phrase, the two phrases should be taught together. There will be rare occasions when the melody should be taught as a whole.
After determining exactly how it should be taught, the instructors should sing the phrase (or phrases, if there are more than one) for the students and ask them to sing it back. Teachers may sing with the students to support them if they desire. Point to the line notation on the charts, board, or transparencies as the singing occurs. With simple songs, a couple of times through the phrase(s) should be sufficient. Several repetitions may be necessary with more difficult songs. It is important, however, not to spend more than two or three minutes with each section. Spending more time than that will result in the other sections becoming restless. Teach the proper part to the first group, then the second part to the next group. Before moving to the third group, ask the first two to sing their parts together. After teaching the third part, combine the three. Finally, teach the fourth part, then combine all four.
As the adolescents sing, teachers may encounter one or two singers who are experiencing difficulty singing in tune (particularly if the process is being used in a general music class). The teachers should not stop the rehearsal to deal with the problem immediately. The primary purpose is to bring the students to experiencing a four-part song as soon as possible. Individual attention will impede progress toward that goal. It will be necessary to show them individual attention at another time that can be arranged by the teachers.
When male teachers teach the cambiata part (if used in middle-level-school grades), it is essential that they sing it at actual pitch. They should not transpose it down an octave because the cambiatas will attempt to do the same with disastrous results. It might be necessary for male teachers to use their falsetto in teaching, for singing in the correct octave is essential to success when teaching cambiatas.
Female instructors occasionally have difficulty relating to the changing-voice baritones, since the baritones sing one octave lower than the female. Baritones who just have entered the second phase of change usually are the ones who do not understand what to do because as trebles and cambiatas they sang at the same pitch level as the female. The solution to the problem is to request one of the established baritones to sing the part instead of the teacher until the light baritones understand the octave phenomenon. After a few sessions as baritones the young men will begin to relate to the female voice.
Since training the adolescents to listen to the tonal sounds is the principal impetus of choral singing, rote teaching should emphasize the music, not the words. Therefore, no words should be included on the transparencies or charts. A neutral vowel such as LOO, LAH, or LEH should be used as the parts are being sung by both the teachers and the students. LOO is best for all parts except the first soprano. It promotes good choral tone and blend. Be sure the inside of the mouth is open and the teeth are parted as the students sing. Attempt to establish a good buzz above the gum ridge, and remind the singers to begin each phrase with a slight tug at the breath-band. The first sopranos will be more comfortable singing the open LAH particularly when the part moves into the upper area of the voice. Remind them to keep the vowel bright, concentrating on placing it above the gum ridge. Do not allow them to "swallow" the vowel or produce it from the throat. A third choice that might work well for all voices is LEH, particularly if the voices are inexperienced and not grounded in good vocal technique. This vowel promotes forward placement that is essential to good vocal tone.
At this point, if time allows, one may consider teaching the words to each part. If there is not enough time to complete teaching the words, it is best to move to a different activity or reinforce what has just been taught and leave teaching the words to another session. Word teaching is done best by simply singing the part already known using the correct text. An effective method for longer songs where the words easily can be confused is lining out. The teachers sing the words to one phrase and the students sing them back, the teacher sings the words to the second phrase and the students sing them back, and so forth. This is all done without stopping the beat in a very smooth, continuous fashion.
Adolescents find this technique of teaching the words intriguing particularly if it is explained to them that lining out was used for several generations in the Colonial church before songbooks were available. Lining out is a technique that takes preparation by the instructor and practice by the singers, but it will be an effective teaching tool after it is mastered.
After the words have been taught to each group, directors should ask the groups to sing the parts together. The beauty of rote teaching is that a singing organization can be taught an arrangement and perform it by memory in as little as twenty minutes, once the teachers have become proficient at their responsibilities. Since no music is placed in the hands of the singers, their attention is directed to the teacher and the charts (or the projected transparency image) and their comprehension is greatly enhanced; thus faster learning occurs. After the song has been taught, then the piano may be added as an accompanying instrument.
It is important to point out that rote teaching is not an end in itself. It should be used only at the beginning of the semester (or year) until the students have learned enough about music reading to be able to understand the purpose of the printed music when it is placed in their hands and how they should function in response to it.
Since learning to sing in parts is the beginning of effective choral singing, one will find the process described above to be one of the quickest and most rewarding routes to success.
Singing Cambiata Music with Older Adolescents and Adults
This arrangement of voice parts allows choirs who have three times as many women as men to sing four-part music with better balance. With this type voicing, directors do not have to be content singing only three parts, usually SAB. It is possible to enjoy a lush, traditional choral sound with just a few men.
The Cambiata Press catalog contains both sacred and secular pieces of practically all types: masterworks, folk songs, hymn arrangements, spirituals, compositions by current composers/arrangers for both church and school, and festival/contest pieces. View and hear many of their pieces online: http://www.cambiatapress.com/
Singing Two Parts with Male Mid-Level Students
The bottom line is that early-adolescent choirs almost always will function better singing music with two boys' parts (four parts total rather than three or less), provided those parts are written to accommodate their vocal limitations.
Tenets of the Cambiata Concept
The approach to the changing voice that has received the greatest exposure, acceptance, and application world-wide is the Cambiata Concept researched, devised, and promulgated by Irvin Cooper, Professor of Music Education at Florida State University 1950-1970. This is true for two reasons. First, Cooper supported his ideas with a choral literature of octavos and booklets that were used by thousands of adolescent singers in middle-level and high schools throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time a specialty publishing company, Cambiata Press, has received wide acceptance nationally by producing music based on the tenets of the Cambiata Concept. Second, Cooper trained several disciples who have been prominent in providing workshops nationally since his death in 1971. They have kept his concept alive by promoting its use in secondary schools and churches as well as by seeing it promulgated by various universities throughout the nation. The concept has been a part of the music education and church music scenes for fifty years or more.
Born in England, Cooper came to Canada after college to teach public-school music. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Manchester, then worked for fifteen years in Montreal as a high school choral and instrumental director. During his forties he became supervisor of music for the entire Montreal system and finished his doctorate at McGill University, where he later taught as director of the McGill University Orchestra and the University Choral and Operatic Society. During his years as supervisor of music; he became involved with early-adolescent singers and changing-voice problems. While supervising middle-level classrooms; he became aware that most of the boys were not singing but instead were having a study period during music class. This lack of involvement in music by the young singers led him to investigate ways in which their participation could be improved. Ultimately he engaged in an in-depth study of early-adolescent voices.
He soon determined that the young men could sing completely throughout vocal mutation as long as they sang music written in accordance to their unique range and tessitura limitations. He felt that no attempt should be made to make the voice fit already existing music but that the music should be made to fit the voice.
Cooper devoted the last thirty years of his life to dealing with the early-adolescent voice. Eventually, he was to see his ideas promulgated throughout thirty states, Canada, England, France, Russia, Brazil, Japan, and Hungary during his lifetime. His publications include twenty-two books of song collections arranged for changing voices; Letters to Pat, a professional book for middle-level school music teachers; Teaching Junior High School Music , a college textbook; The Reading Singer, a sight-reading method for adolescents; and a sound-color movie, The Changing Voice, which was a blue-ribbon winner at the American Film Festival. At the time of his death in 1971, he was chairman of the International Research Committee for the Study of Changing Voice Phenomena with the International Society of Music Education and he was establishing laboratory studies in England, Russia, and Japan. His tenure of twenty years as professor of music at Florida State University has produced students and disciples who are spread throughout the United States, Europe, and South America.
He took the term cambiata from the theoretical terminology cambiata nota; meaning changing note, and adapted it to cambiata voce; or changing voice. In the United States the term "cambiata concept" is recognized as a method of dealing with boys' changing voices and originally it was indeed limited to that area. However, since Cooper's death, it has grown to encompass much more than that. As described in the book The Cambiata Concept , it has been fashioned into a comprehensive philosophy and methodology of teaching choral music to adolescents.
Cooper worked with and classified over 114,000 adolescent voices in his lifetime. From his research, the research of many of his disciples, and that great wealth of practical experience contributed by him and his disciples, the following tenets pertaining to adolescent voices have emerged.
Cooper believed that adolescent girls should not be classified as sopranos and altos but should be considered as having equal voices. He called them the blues and the greens to achieve this equality.
He indicated that there are four types of boys' voices in middle-level schools: (1) boys' unchanged voices, whom he called sopranos; (2) boys in the first phase of change, or cambiatas (the plural form of cambiata is cambiate; but it is accepted practice to refer to a group of these boys as cambiatas); (3) boys in the second phase of change, or baritones; and (4) boys with changed voices, whom he called basses (he considered the adolescent bass voice to be rare, appearing only occasionally at the middle-level school age).
Ranges for these voices are: Girls and Boy Trebles, B flat (below middle C) upwardly to F (top line, treble clef); Cambiata (1st phase of change), F (below middle C) upwardly to C (third space, treble clef); and Baritones (2nd phase of change), B flat (second line, bass clef) upwardly to F (above middle C).
He warned that it is a gross error to assume that every voice in each category precisely fits the prescribed range boundaries. It is safe to assume that 90 percent of the singers in each category can maneuver vocally within the appropriate ranges designated above.
He further restricted the vocal parts by indicating that the music to be sung by adolescent singers should stay within a more comfortable area, which he called the singing tessitura. Tessitura is that portion of the vocal range in which it is comfortable to sing for a considerable length of time without tiring. He indicated that brief vocal excursions outside the tessitura can be very effective, but if the general line of any song lies outside the tessitura, vocal strain results. The following shows the tessitura within individual part ranges: Girls and Boy Trebles, D (above middle C) upwardly to D (fourth line, treble clef); Cambiata, A (below middle C) upwardly to A (2nd space, treble clef); Baritones, D (third line, bass clef) upwardly to D (above middle C).
Cooper discouraged unison and unison-octave singing in middle-level schools. When one examines a composite of all the ranges, it becomes apparent that in order to have successful unison or unison-octave singing one must choose a song with a compass of D (above middle C for girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas -- one octave lower for baritones) up to A (second space, treble clef, for girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas) if the singers are to stay within the comfortable singing area of their voices. The baritones have a bit more flexibility (they can sing D, third line in the bass clef, up to D above middle C in the bass clef) when singing an octave lower than the girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas who will be singing in unison in the octave above.
When boys sing in unison, such as in the widely-used voicing Soprano, Alto, Boys (SAB), they are limited to a tessitura of A (top line, bass clef) up to D (directly above middle C). This limited range makes it very difficult for the cambiatas because it keeps them in the lower extremities of their vocal range, and it is difficult for the baritones because they must sing exclusively in the upper extremities of their vocal range. None of the boys can sing comfortably when singing in unison which obviously results in tensive singing.
Cooper avoided individual voice testing on the basis that if given the opportunity, a young man will choose the most comfortable singing area of the voice; thus literally classifying himself. Cooper believed that another important reason for not using individual voice testing was that it was vitally important for the student to have an exciting singing experience on the first day of class or in the first meeting period. Time did not allow for individual testing. He wanted the students to leave the classroom after a thirty to fifty-minute session having experienced four-part singing, which would certainly excite them about singing for the rest of the year. Through a special group-classification procedure and by rote teaching of melodically oriented songs, he was able to achieve that goal.
After he classified the voices, he was ready to teach a four-part (soprano I, soprano II, cambiata and baritone) song to everyone. Each part was taught by rote from a song chosen from one of his melody-part style song booklets. In no more than forty or fifty minutes, he had classified all the voices and taught the group to sing a four-part song successfully. This usually proved to be an exciting time for the young singers. Often they were unable to believe that they could be singing four-part music so easily and quickly.
To describing the timbre, or vocal quality, of the cambiata voice, Cooper used the term "wooly." He said cambiata voices are rich, undeniably masculine almost to the point of belligerency, and truly beautiful if the sound is controlled in volume and not permitted to become strident from sheer vocal exuberance. A perfect example of this sound may be heard in the very early recordings of Wayne Newton, the popular singer of a few years back.
Cooper was concerned that teachers might misclassify the cambiata voice because of an aural illusion of its sounding an octave lower than is actually the case. He called this the octave aural illusion, which is due to the richness and depth of the tone quality. If cambiata voices are misclassified and required to sing a baritone, or bass part, which actually will sound one octave higher than written, the resulting sound is quite unpleasant.
Cooper warned against placing the cambiata on a tenor part in Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (SATB) music. In his view, the tenor part is too low, just as the alto part is too high for the cambiatas. They need a special part written specifically for them.
In providing literature for young adolescent singers Cooper used a technique he called melody-part style writing. If one is particularly partial to harmonically oriented music, an approach favored by many of the composers and arrangers of music used in American schools, one may object to Cooper's style because of the cross-voicing, equal female parts, and contrapuntal voice leading. Cooper's style ensures that each part will be interesting for the singer, but more important, each young singer will be able to take advantage of the melodic characteristics of the music to remember the part and be secure in four-part singing. Often in harmonically oriented music, students attempting part singing finish the song by singing the original melody instead of their intended part. If the students have a part to sing that is, in fact, a melody, their ability to stay with it to the end is greatly increased. Cooper was willing to sacrifice a typical, homophonic sound for what to him was a greater educational purpose in writing.
Another significant consideration was the importance of choosing music appropriate for the young baritone voice and some cambiatas with their inability to articulate at an increased tempo. Melismatic passages should not be chosen for these boys to sing. Further, any part that requires an inordinate amount of articulation at an increased tempo should also be avoided.
Finally, and most important, it was imperative from Cooper's standpoint that middle-level school singers perform music written specifically for them. As mentioned, he discouraged placing cambiatas on a tenor part, because the tessitura was too low, or on the alto, because the tessitura was too high. He adamantly discouraged choosing Soprano, Alto, Baritone (SAB) music for these young singers because, he maintained, there was no part for the cambiatas to sing. Adult female parts are often too high or have a compass too wide for comfortable singing by adolescent females, and the same application can be made to bass parts for young baritones, particularly in the lower extremities of the voice.
THE CAMBIATA INSTITUTE OF AMERICA FOR EARLY ADOLESCENT VOCAL MUSIC
In the spring of 1979, eight years after Cooper's death, Don L. Collins founded Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America and incorporated it as a nonprofit, state-chartered educational institution. Dr. Collins served as founder/director of the Institute until 2009. He was a student of Cooper's at Florida State University from 1967 to 1970 while working on his doctorate. Near the end of Cooper's tenure (he retired in 1971), he was chatting informally with Collins and another graduate student and the subject of the future of the concept surfaced. Almost as if he were moved by divine guidance, Cooper somberly stated, "If the concept is to remain alive over the next several decades, it may well be left up to one of you." Mysteriously, door after door opened over the next thirty years that not only kept the concept alive but also allowed it to be proliferated to thousands of music educators and church musicians throughout the world. On April 23, 2009, the Institute found a new home. It is now The Cambiata Vocal Institute of America for Early Vocal Music Education under the auspices of the College of Music at the University of North Texas in Denton. At that time Dr. Collins stepped down as the director and Dr. Alan McClung, Associate Professor of Choral Music Education at UNT became the new Executive Director.
The primary purpose of the institute is to train music educators in the comprehensive philosophy and methodology of the Cambiata Concept by providing a sound basis for teaching vocal music to adolescents. Following are the basic tenets of the concept promoted by the institute:
* Music is a discipline and should be taught as such. Through structured curriculum individuals are taught (1) to understand and respond to the written language of music, (2) to sing with ease and beauty through proper vocal-choral technique, and (3) to communicate the message of the text and aural musical sound in an artistic and stylistic fashion.
* Vocal music is a gift or an innate ability of all humans and through discipline it can be developed into a meaningful art form that heightens one's ability to judge the aesthetic value of certain life experiences.
* The four ingredients in music -- melody, rhythm, harmony, and form (particularly harmony) -- should be experienced as an aural art before one learns to deal with them in written form.
* The study of music not only prepares one for professional service but also, more important, develops sensitive, artistic individuals with a greater ability to deal with life situations successfully.
* Americans have an extensive music heritage that is disclosed in many facets. Vocalists should be able to experience and express themselves in as many of these as possible.
The term "music educator" immediately brings to mind training of teachers for service in the public schools. The scope of the Cambiata Institute encompasses more than public schools. It administers in five major areas:
*PUBLIC AND PRIVATE-SCHOOL MUSIC EDUCATION: This is the traditional teacher-training area.
* CHURCH MUSIC EDUCATION: The safeguard of the country's church music heritage lies in teaching adolescents to express their faith in song. Ministers of music, church choir directors, organists, and so forth hold the key to that security, and they should be trained to cherish that responsibility and carry the torch high.
* PRIVATE VOCAL STUDIOS: Because of the increase of privately funded elementary and secondary schools each year, the trend of the twenty-first century will be toward each family's funding their child's education. One will see more and more private music studios being founded.
* THE BOY CHOIR TRADITION: There are very few institutions of higher education in the United States that specifically train directors of boy choirs. It is part of the American choral tradition that is becoming less and less active and it should be preserved.
* PROFESSIONAL EARLY-ADOLESCENT CHORAL SINGING: This area includes the training of choral directors so that they may develop their adolescent choirs to such a high level of performance that they may serve the needs of private business and entertainment on a professional basis.
Specific activities of the institute since its founding include sponsoring several hundred vocal-choral music workshops in thirty-one states throughout the United States and overseas.
Dr. Alan McClung has delineated the following comprehensive projects as the future aspirations of the institute:
- To establish a revenue-generating honor choir camp for students in grades 7 and 8 on the campus of the University of North Texas.
- To initiate, in connection with the honor choir camp, a teacher-training program leading to a Certificate in Early-Adolescent Vocal Music.
- To seek external funding (summer choir camp, workshop honoraria and fees, external gifts, and grants) to promote and support the Institute’s interests.
- To recruit music educators interested in graduate studies with a concentration in choral music education for early-adolescents at the middle school level.
- To fund a graduate teaching assistant position to address needs related to the Institute’s interests, goals, objectives, initiatives, and projects.
- To develop and maintain the Institute’s website through the cooperation of the UNT College of Music.
- To promote peer-reviewed research publications (hard copy and on-line) that are related specifically to the interests of choral music educators who work with early-adolescent students.
- To encourage the publication of quality materials specifically related to improving instruction in the middle level choral music classroom.
- To encourage the composition of high quality choral and solo literature for early-adolescent singers.
- To facilitate the above by sponsoring The Cambiata Composition Project, a national level choral composition competition for 2-part and 3-part choral literature for the male changing voice. Five years of competition would yield 25 winning compositions published by as a choral anthology by Cambiata Press.
- To promote the Cambiata tenets in teacher-training at all levels: national, divisional, state, region, district, individual schools, and churches.
- To write, fund, and produce a DVD that outlines the Institute’s mission, philosophy, and methods.
- To influence choral music education curriculum at the college/university level (NASM).
- To establish satellite summer programs in different regions of the country.
- To host a national convention geared specifically to the needs and interests of middle level choirs, middle level choral music educators, and middle level choral music topics and clinicians.
- To value, create, and maintain a meaningful connection with other professional organizations concerned with the education of early-adolescents, i.e., The National Middle School Association (NMSA), Texas Music Educations Association (TMEA); Texas Choral Directors Association (TCDA); The National Association for Music Education (MENC), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA); International Society for Music Education (ISME); and the National Association Schools of Music (NASM).
Training the Uncertain Singer
In most cases, the inability to match pitch is a result of a lack of understanding about the singing voice. Students often relate the singing voice to the speaking voice. They do not realize how much energy it takes to produce tones substantially higher than those they use in speaking. This is particularly true with the young baritone, who has to learn to deal with his rapidly growing vocal apparatus that often reacts in a rather erratic manner. However, any students who are inexperienced singers might have to be taught to understand their vocal instruments and how to use them properly before they can sing tunefully.
After proper voice classification (click here to access a description of this procedure), many inexperienced singers who might have been singing untunefully in the first session of choir or music class will automatically begin to match pitch in a day or two. Placing them in the correct section allows them to use their comfortable singing tessitura. Instructors should make a mental note of which students were having trouble during the voice-classification procedure. During each of the first several sessions together, directors should pass in front of these students several times to determine if they are in fact beginning to sing tunefully. If, after several sessions together, some of the students are still having trouble matching some of the pitches, it will be necessary to give them individual attention. Chances are that these students will never learn to match pitch without being taught individually. Obviously, the success of the overall group sound is jeopardized until directors deal with the problem. Observation of different choirs at choral festivals reveals that one of the most common mistakes choral directors make is to ignore the uncertain singers. An even more deplorable practice is to ask uncertain singers to "mouth the words" and not sing when they cannot sing tunefully. This approach is devastating to the morale and self-image of young singers who are having difficulty. This only camouflages the problem and does nothing for the self-assurance of the singers who obviously realize they are not performing well.
Directors can best provide individual attention in several ten-minute segments alone with the student. During the first ten-minute session, explain to the student that the difficulty is not the student's ability to sing in tune. Students must be assured that after they learn to use their vocal instrument, they will be able to make a fine contribution to the singing group. Directors should attempt to keep the students from feeling that their difficulty in singing is a problem because that feeling will cause the students to be harder to teach in the succeeding times together. Students should be led to understand that learning to sing is just as easy as learning to count or to read. If they work hard and attend to their difficulties, they will learn to sing well.
It is difficult to believe that adolescents might not understand the simple concepts of up and down and high and low, but occasionally they do not. In the first session with the individual students, directors should play or sing some high and low pitches and ascending and descending scales to determine if such is the case. If the students confuse high and low or up or down, a few minutes of helping them to recognize the difference is generally all that is necessary to correct the lack of understanding.
Adolescents can learn to sing a melodic pattern more easily than they can match isolated pitches that are not related to each other. Therefore it is better to continue the first session with a simple melodic pattern played or sung at different pitch levels than to play or sing a single pitch and ask the students to sing it. The simple childhood chant (so, so, mi, la, so, mi) is a good melodic pattern to use. Without any indication from the voice or the piano, ask the students to sing the childhood chant where it is most comfortable in their voices. Sing or play the pattern back to them at the same pitch level; then move up one-half step and sing or play the same pattern, and ask the students to sing it. If they are successful in moving up one-half step, move up another and ask them to sing the pattern at that level. Continue to move up and down above and below the initial pitch that the students chose to sing. Each time they are successful, congratulate them. If the students are unsuccessful, ask them if what they sang was correct. They must realize when they are not matching the pitches. If the students do not realize that they have sung the pitches incorrectly, move back to an area where they are successful, then ask them to sing the pattern again and congratulate them when it is correct. Continue this process until the students are able to tell the instructors each time they have sung correctly or incorrectly.
As long as the teacher stays near the initial pitch level, the students will have success matching the pitches. As the teacher moves upward, a pitch level will be reached in which the students are not using enough energy to match the correct pitches. At this point, instructors should take a different approach. The interval of an ascending fifth (do up to so) is a good interval to use to help the students move into the area of the voice where they are tunefully uncertain. Place do in the area of the voice where they have been successful but where so will occur in the area of the voice that they have been unable to reach. Using the words Good Morning (do, do, so), sing or play the pattern to the students and ask them to sing it. It is best for both the students and instructor to stand. As the students attempt to sing the pitch so and the syllable ing, the instructors should press inwardly with the hand using a quick yet slight movement at the front of the breath-band area just above the navel. (If the students are of the opposite sex from the instructor -- or in some cases, even if the student is of the same sex -- it may be best that the students place one of their hands on their own breath-band areas, then one of the instructor's hands may be placed on the students' hand for the purpose of initiating the quick yet slight movement.) The sudden impulse of air created by the quick movement will free the voice to produce the upper pitch. If the first attempt is not successful, the teacher should try the exercise several times. After several attempts, students are usually successful in singing the upper pitch in tune. Once they have succeeded, subsequent attempts will be easier. After the upper pitch has been achieved, the student should maintain the pressure on the breath-band area as they are asked to sustain the tone. Move the do, do, so pattern up one-half step and then another using the same technique until the students realize that they can sing the upper pitches.
Another method to achieve the same results may be used. Tell the students to cup their two hands together about waist high, pretend the sounds are in the palms of the hands, and, with the leap to the second pitch of the pattern, lift both hands quickly above the forehead. The teacher should stand in front of the students and go through the same motion, which will provide a stimulus. Occasionally the students will overshoot the higher pitch, which is acceptable because the process will have freed the upper voice. Another method is the siren technique that is particularly helpful in assisting the students in discovering the head voice or falsetto. Instruct the students to begin as low in the voice as they are able and imitate a police siren (use the old-fashioned straight single-tone effect, not the modern double-toned descending minor third effect), going as high as possible. As soon as a significant range movement is detected, the instructor should transfer to the good morn-ing pattern.
One session with uncertain singers is insufficient. Instructors will find that the students will revert to the uncertain singing when they are put back with the other singers. It is essential to hold several sessions with the students, each time doing basically the same thing, constantly reinforcing the successes with praise, and questioning the lack of success until the students overcome their inhibitions and sing with confidence and energy on correct pitches.
Place the uncertain singers near the strongest vocalist in the section when they sing with the group. Often it is necessary to take those stronger vocalists into the instructor's confidence, explaining that the uncertain singers have been placed near them intentionally and asking them to assist in helping the uncertain singers find their voices. This is necessary because occasionally tuneful singers will ridicule untuneful ones and tease them about their untunefulness, particularly if the untuneful one is sitting nearby. Recruiting the tuneful singers to serve as helpers discourages the teasing.
The octave difference between females (and unchanged voices) and males whose voices have already changed may make it difficult for males to relate well to female pitches, so female instructors may have difficulty assisting male uncertain singers. This can be alleviated by inviting a male tuneful singer from the group to attend the sessions with the uncertain singer and to demonstrate with his voice. The uncertain singer soon learns to relate to the tuneful singer's voice because it sounds in the same octave and has a very similar timbre.
During the last several years as professor of music at Florida State University, Irvin Cooper conducted a chorus of all the students enrolled at the Blessed Sacrament School in Tallahassee. He would never exclude a student because of untunefulness, and, believe it or not, he never had uncertain singers. Individual attention was the secret to success. It takes time and a good bit of extra effort on your part as an instructor, but the rewards are great!
Early in Don L. Collins’ career he was working with an early-adolescent girl who for the first time began to produce music with correct pitches. She stopped singing, and after several seconds he turned around (she was standing behind him as he played the piano) to ascertain what was wrong. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. After years of untunefulness, she was literally overwhelmed with her success as a music maker. Collins later related that nothing was more satisfying to him than seeing the expression on the face of a youngster who is enjoying and appreciating music making for the first time.
Understanding Adolescent Vocal Registers
Intentionally, a deeply detailed, scientific explanation of registers is not presented here. An attempt is made to explain a very complex operation in simple lay terms. For a deeper, more discerning explanation, one may consult William Vennard's book, Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic*, particularly Chapter 4, or some other good book about the physiology of the voice.
In general, all singers (male, female, child, adolescent, and adult) have two usable registers. There is a third in the extremely high area of the child and female voice called the whistle register and another in the extremely low area of the adolescent changed and adult male voice referred to as fry tones, but these are not very useful for singing. Some teachers avoid using the term "register" altogether, particularly those who teach voice from a resonance point of view, because they want to discourage any implication that the voice is segmented. Their desire is to train the voice so that it sounds consistent from top to bottom. The use of the term "register" here should in no way discourage the attempt to reach that same goal with adolescent singers. Some teachers use terms that imply three usable registers, such as "modal" (other terms used for the same are "full" or "normal"), "head," and "falsetto" for the male; and "chest," "middle," and "head" for the female and boy treble. For purposes of this explanation, one must think about the high, light register (falsetto in men and head voice in women and boy trebles) as opposed to the low, heavy register (normal, full, or modal in men and chest in women and boy trebles). The head voice in men and the middle voice in women and boy trebles do not constitute a register (for the purpose of this explanation) but represent a mixture of the characteristics of the upper, lighter voice with those of the lower, heavier voice. Henceforth, the two primary registers will be called head voice (upper, lighter) and chest voice (lower, heavier).
In lay terms, when students sing in chest voice, phonation occurs throughout most of the length of the vocal folds (really a set of complex muscular fibers called thyroarytenoids), which become shorter and thicker than when they are not active. The glottis (the opening between the vocal folds) closes firmly and remains closed briefly during each vibration, so that air pressure builds up below and bursts out. Each puff of air in each vibration opens the glottis in a rather explosive fashion. This makes the chest voice suitable for low tones, which are comparatively loud and rich in harmonic partials.
In the head voice (falsetto in the changed male voice) the inner part (farthest from the edge) of the vocal folds (thyroarytenoid muscular fiber) is almost inactive. The vocal ligaments that form the edge of the vocal folds are stretched and become quite thin. In phonation, only the edges of the vocal folds (vocal ligaments) vibrate. If the pitches are low, even though the opening is narrow, the entire glottis vibrates. In the higher frequencies the glottis has time to vibrate only at the forward end. The vocal instrument, operating in this fashion, exhudes a sound which is more flutelike in tone quality with fewer partials.
In most cases, singers are able to produce tones over a three-octave range. (Notice that the statement says "produce tones"; they cannot sing well throughout the entire three octaves.) The lower octave will be produced in the full voice (men) or chest voice (women and boy trebles), the middle octave may be produced in either voice, and the upper octave will be produced in the head voice (women and boy trebles) and falsetto (changed male voice). Notice the illustration below. It should be understood that when the term "octave" is used, depending on the voice, these pitches may be more or fewer than eight tones.
Although the above pitches may vary depending upon the voice type of the individual (tenor, bass or baritone), most males use only full voice from F (first ledger space below the bass clef) up to middle C. They may use either full voice or falsetto from about middle C upward to G (second line treble clef) and falsetto exclusively from that G upward to G, one octave higher. Most females, again depending upon the voice type (soprano, mezzo, or alto), use chest voice from F (fourth line, bass clef) up to D (directly above middle C). They may use either chest or head phonation from that D up to A (second space, treble clef) and head phonation exclusively up to high G (fourth ledger line above the treble clef). Notice that the lower "octave" in the male voice and the upper "octave" in the female and boy treble voices contain the most pitches, indicative of the type phonation that should be used as the predominant singing area of the vocal instrument.
With young singers, the teacher should attempt to keep the female in the head voice in the upper two "octaves," using the chest voice only on the lowest tones of the literature. Likewise, the teacher should attempt to keep the changing and changed male voices in the chest (normal or modal) area in the lower "octave" and most of the middle "octave." With the changing voices and the changed male voices, it is best to use literature that will keep them in the chest (normal) area most of the time. The type phonation male trebles should use varies according to age. Until ages eleven or twelve, young men should be trained to use head phonation predominantly. However, if their singing experiences have been limited early in life and they begin singing around ages eleven, twelve, or older, it is a bit futile to train the head voice when in a year or two, as he enters the first phase of vocal mutation, the chest voice will emerge as the predominant portion of the voice to be used.
Please understand the importance of dealing correctly with the area with which head or chest phonation may be used. Employing the wrong vocal phonation on these pitches can be very detrimental to proper vocal production and good health.