. . . I didn’t know what a larynx was, I thought the diaphragm was something you “sing from,” and I could barely access my head voice. I had spent four years pushing my voice to its limits as a high school cheerleader. Then I became a choral conductor . . .
. . . because of my passion for singing, my love of choral music, and for the challenges and rewards that come with working with young people. While all of those things still apply to my practice, a humbling experience early in my teaching career gave me new direction and a new priority:
to provide adolescent singers with healthy singing techniques, and to make them aware of the consequences of using the voice in harmful ways. As a young teacher, I endured a personal struggle with several of these consequences.
While voice lessons can offer the opportunity to learn proper technique in a one-on-one setting, most young singers do not have the time for, access to, or interest in private lessons. The task of providing vocal technique was therefore left to my middle and high school choir directors. I loved my directors; they built my confidence, taught me the fundamentals of music, and nourished a passion for ensemble performance—but our curriculum did not emphasize healthy singing.
By the time I started college, I had spent my entire singing life trying to belt Broadway tunes and pop songs with the trademark sounds of the famous voices on the radio. I didn’t know what a larynx was, I thought the diaphragm was something you “sing from,” and I could barely access my head voice. I also spent four years pushing my voice to its limits as a cheerleader for my high school. Needless to say, my college instructor had her work cut out for her!
The music program at Washburn University gave me the opportunity to grow as a singer. Even as I learned more about vocal technique, healthy singing was still not a cornerstone of my degree program. When I entered the teaching profession after graduation, the consequences of old vocal habits finally came to bear. In my first year teaching Kindergarten-8th grade music, I began to experience vocal fatigue. It was a struggle to make it through every week, and I wondered why I barely had a voice by Friday. It was frustrating and, frankly, embarrassing. How could I be a good example if I could not effectively model how I wanted my students to sing? Only after I began my post graduate studies at University of Kansas, did I learn the true importance of vocal pedagogy. Regular voice lessons with Steve Scott also helped me work my way back to a healthy singing voice.
The experience was humbling on many levels, but my vocal struggles ignited a new passion for me as a choir teacher: I regularly expose my students to the biomechanics and physiology of the voice so they too can learn about the importance of healthy singing. They learn about the demands they are making on their bodies and the importance of practicing good technique. They also learn about the consequences of bad habits—including the ones that gave me so much trouble. I believe this approach has yielded better student engagement and produced young singers who are more cognizant and more confident. In the future, as a new author to Developing Voices, I’ll detail some effective ways to incorporate healthy singing into the choral curricula.
R – Ms. Berroth and the Leewood Middle School Chorus.