Sister Choruses ~ A Chinese/American Choral Exchange (video of live stream)

4 videos attached from the recording of the live Skype stream between Jennifer Berroth’s Sixth Grade Chorus of Leawood Middle School in Kansas and the Parry and Elgar Choristers of the Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir in Zhuhai, China directed by Lynn Swanson. Downloadable anthems/links* attached.

On March 30, 2018 the Leawood Middle School Sixth Grade Chorus under the direction of Jennifer Berroth exchanged a few memorable moments of singing with members of the Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir.

This came about from the initiative of Ms. Berroth to expose her young singers to a new and exciting experience that would connect them to another culture in another part of the world. They will be presenting a spring concert using folk songs from around the globe. What better way to truly understand another culture than to interface with it. What came about then was a choral exchange with a classical children’s choir on the other side of the world.

Jennifer and I scheduled Friday, March 30 as the day we could most easily introduce our choristers to each other. We gathered at 8:30pm on a Friday night which was Kansas City’s Friday morning – 7:30am. We performed folk songs from each other’s homeland and then sang a second selection from each chorus’s repertoire.

We also had a question and answer time for each other which was very enlightening for these children sharing their love of music but living so far apart.

Some of the questions were:

Leawood to Zhuhai: Has anyone ever been to America? And if so, what did you think? About twelve hands shot up. We asked Cindy, age 15, to elaborate on her experience. She said that she had visited as a student and learned many wonderful things about the culture. She found everyone to be very friendly and helpful. She was especially struck by how beautiful our national parks are, something the Chinese do not have. She hopes to return soon to study again.

There was actually one Leawood chorus member who lived in Shanghai, China for three years. She attended an international school and studied Chinese. She continues her study of Mandarin in the US.

Zhuhai to Leawood: What classes do you take at school? Leawood students said they study Math and Science in the mornings, then English, History and Band, Chorus and/or Orchestra in the afternoons. At Leawood, students can take two music classes simultaneously if they like. They also said the school offers Spanish and French as foreign languages.

Leawood to Zhuhai: How many of the singers study a private instrument? Every hand (45 youth) in the chorus except for one went up. Piano is the most popular instrument studied followed by violin.

All the chorus members were very appreciative of the time invested to schedule this thirty-minute event. It made me smile to see the lit up eyes and expressions of  wonderment on their faces. It underscored once again, that where ever you go, music can be an immediate connection to others. World leaders may cause conflict which can seemingly pit cultures against each other. But when the arts and music in particular is used, the heart softens and reveals an endearing smile that stems from the soul. This is a memory that will be cherished for years to come. You never know, our choristers just might meet again one day at a Beethoven Festival in the middle of Poland! It’s happened to me before!

Our live stream was projected onto a wall using our lap tops and Skype accounts ~

Leawood Middle School Sixth Grade Chorus performs for Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir. The song was Ge Sheng Yu Wei Xiao*, a Chinese folk song transcribed and arranged for piano and chorus by Andrew Webb-Mitchell. Pronunciation:


Translation: Please bring my song back to your home and leave your smile.
Tomorrow this song will fly over the horizon.
Tomorrow this smile will be wild spring flowers.

Leawood watches Zhuhai choristers sing Henry Purcell’s Let Us Wander* for two part treble chorus.

Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir watches Leawood Middle School Sixth Grade Chorus sing Ho, Ho the Rattlin’ Bog*, an Irish folk song.

Leawood watches Zhuhai choristers sing American folk song Ring-a-Ching-Chaw arranged by Aaron Copland.

Leawood Middle School Sixth Grade Chorus

Leawood Middle School is a part of the Blue Valley School District, Kansas. Jennifer Berroth, Choir Director. Ms. Berroth is also a contributing author of

Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir

Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir in Zhuhai, China is a choir of the Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies, China. Lynn Swanson, Assistant Director.

For links to songs used in our exchange please Read More at the bottom of this article ~

Jennifer Berroth,
Lynn Swanson
Lynn Swanson,

Continue reading Sister Choruses ~ A Chinese/American Choral Exchange (video of live stream)

Five Steps to Making Every Rehearsal Count

The five steps to making every rehearsal count is designed to help create the mindset that each rehearsal is a special occasion, one that can be likened to a greatly anticipated dinner party.  I don’t think this concept is a stretch at all when one considers that every rehearsal is a gathering at the feast table of musical genius.  Worthwhile choral repertoire, such as the works of Bach, Brahms, Haydn, Vaughan Williams and other masters, is nothing less than a foretaste of Paradise.

Clean the House and Set the Table

If the President of the United States, or the CEO of your organization, were to come to dinner at your home, how would you dress?  Would you consider what might be appropriate dinner conversation? Would you use paper plates and plastic flatware?  Would the napkins be from the paper towel roll?

I believe you would consider every detail, large and small, to prepare for a memorable event.

Consider the guests that attend our rehearsals, including Bach, Tallis, Beethoven, Britten, and Palestrina.  These guests are worthy of our most attendant preparation.  The rehearsal room should be spotless.  There should be a chair for each member perfectly placed, not one too few, not one too many.  Handouts and materials should be printed and readily available.  If recording equipment is needed, it should be set-up in advance and tested.  The rehearsal space should be prepared and set like fine china and depending on your situation at least one hour before the first singer arrives.

Dress for the Occasion

The conductor should dress for the part.  No sensible person would wear jeans with an T-shirt and sneakers when hosting a dinner party for an important business leader community or in the arts.  Neither should the conductor, who is the host leading the rehearsal of a life-changing encounter with extraordinary greatness.

A choral rehearsal of immortal music is not a casual event. Rather, it is critical and urgent work that offers light and hope for all of mankind.  I strongly recommend conductors wear dress slacks, dress shirt or blouse with a tie or vest and even a professional suit with a high shine on the shoes. Yes, there may be some puzzled expressions from chorus members at first, and perhaps some teasing comments, but you will communicate that you value the rehearsal proceedings enough that you are willing to dress properly for the special occasion.  If you don’t believe it will make a difference, try it for a month.

Build Community to Enhance the Experience

The first objective in the work of transforming a number of musicians into an ensemble is the process of creating community.  Whether the project involves a handful of rehearsals and a performance, or whether it involves weekly rehearsals and periodic concerts, it is important for the human connection to be nurtured with intention.

Where possible, it is ideal for singers, arriving early for rehearsal, to have a gathering place where they may interact with one another.  Having coffee and tea readily available, yes -even for evening rehearsals-, and, perhaps, some carefully chosen snack items, helps encourage arriving singers to interact in ways that inspire an emotional and spiritual investment in friendship with each other and, by extension, to the ensemble as a whole.

Manage the Energy Flow of the Rehearsal

Many conductors invest rehearsal preparation time in the anticipation of musical or vocal challenges, but they neglect to consider the impact of the energy flow in the rehearsal as an experience.  All of us have been taught to begin and end rehearsals with confidence-building repertoire and activities, and to save the gravest challenges for the early-middle period of the session.  Managing the flow of human energy requires a deeper consideration of the give and take of the rehearsal process.  For example, conventional wisdom dictates that the most challenging aspects of a musical episode be rehearsed first and longest.  In contrast I suggest that everything that is already confident be reaffirmed, and only then should the challenging episode be addressed.  The most difficult passages are, thus, addressed from a position of greater confidence, making them easier to master, and increasing the likelihood that the instruction will hold from one rehearsal to the next.  Rehearsals should always end with expressions of inspiration, appreciation and wonder.  Though it can seem frantic and overwhelming at times, the opportunity to interact with worthy music is a great blessing that should be approached with nothing less than an overwhelming spirit of humility and thanksgiving.

Evaluate Each Rehearsal Using Recordings

A great cook and a caring host always dedicates time after a dinner party to considering what went well and what could be improved upon the next time.  Choral conductors are very good at measuring and evaluating the progress of their singers during rehearsal, but we are less inclined to evaluate ourselves.

With free decent-quality recording apps available for smart-phones and tablets, there is no reason not to record every minute of every rehearsal.  It is very instructive to evaluate the sound of the ensemble and to identify issues that need to be addressed in subsequent rehearsals.  It is even more beneficial for the conductor to address his or her own performance.  This evaluation can and should include clarity of instruction, wise and efficient use of time, tone of voice -helpful and encouraging, or mocking and edgy-, flow of energy, and effectiveness of rehearsal methods.  It might be a good exercise occasionally to measure how much time the chorus spends singing as opposed to how much time the conductor spends talking.

Though every conductor will adapt these suggestions to his or her own situation, the point of this discussion is to encourage the conductor to consider each and every rehearsal a special event in its own right, not just as a way-station on the journey to performance.  Creative conductors will explore ways to enrich the enjoyment of the rehearsal experience while increasing productivity for chorus members. As the conductor adopts this mindset, each chorus member will follow suit, thus creating a more effective and enjoyable rehearsal experience that will lead to more inspired and memorable concert performances.

William O. Baker, DMA, Founder & Music Director

William Baker Choral Foundation, Roeland Park, Kansas









A NEW YEAR ~ A NEW HABIT – Avoiding Vocal Fatigue in the Classroom

Educators can be at unusual risk for developing vocal fatigue and hoarseness. Demands of heavy voice use throughout the week is tremendous with little time for the voice to rest and recover.                               


please refer to References at the end of this article for a more exhaustive list of aids for music teachers.

  • Take special care to be well-hydrated. Begin your day with a full glass of water. If you drink a caffeinated drink, do so without over-dosing.
  • Warm up your voice as soon as your feet hit the ground (and you’ve had your water) Please see Teacher Warm Up at the end of this article.
  • Use printed signs or hand gestures for recurring communications.
  • Minimize vocal use to teach the music. Use your keyboard skills or the pianist and section leaders to demonstrate the part.
  • Use amplification during rehearsal.
  • Avoid talking at the end of your breath. Don’t hold your breath before or between words. Practice vocal pacing by taking breaks from talking, both long and short throughout the day. Refraining from talking for even five minutes can make a difference.
  • Provide recordings for your choir members to learn their part.
  • If you are giving a long lecture, get creative with ways to present other than the constant use of your voice.
  • If your voice is fatigued, stop speaking!
  • Avoid loud conversations prompted by loud restaurants, halls and outdoor events.
  • Improve your classroom acoustics: Add acoustic panels to the ceiling and walls and carpeting to the floors. Minimize noise from fans, lights, overhead projectors, and sound coming from other classes. For more specific tips, visit for the Acoustical Society of America’s Classroom Acoustics booklet.
    • Lombard effect. The Lombard effect will cause one to increase their volume due to increased noise levels in the room. Voices tend to produce a more pressed phonation. Avoid talking over noise whenever possible. Turn off the fan, buzzing lights, computers, etc. when talking.
  • Wear an earplug in at least one ear. It can help your voice avoid speaking too loudly in noisy situations.
  • Use sound makers (whistles, hand claps) to gain students’ attention, rather than a loud voice.
  • Use amplification when teaching to minimize voice overuse


YES! Warming up the voice is not just for singing anymore. You should begin with gentle phonation at the start of your day to reinforce healthy habits.


  • Begin with various rhythmic patterns using [Sh].
  • Hiss like snake while pulsing from just below the sternum.
  • Hum softly on glissando five-note scales.
  • Lip trill without phonating.
  • Lip trill phonation while on a descending then ascending five-note scales. Move down by semi-tones.
  • Repeat sequence using a syllable such as [mam] with a relaxed jaw.
  • Sing on [ni] on a bright sound by incorporating rabbit teeth.
  • Repeat sequence on [fu] to ensure use of diaphragmatic breathing with a gentle onset.
  • Transition into the head voice by using bird calls: “Kaw-Kaw”; “Cu-roo, Cu-roo” and sliding down through the mixed voice into the chest voice.
  • Gently speak sentences that begin with [m]: Meet me on Monday.
  • Finally, speak everyday phrases using the same easy production. Your goal is to use this easy vocal production throughout the day.



Duke Voice Care Center.  Vocal health information. Retrieved from

Daugherty, J. (2012). Vocal health handout. University of Kansas.  Lawrence, KS.

Daugherty, J. (2015). Graduate vocal pedagogy.  Retrieved from

Erickson-Levendoski, E., Sivasankar, M. (2011). Investigating the effects of caffeine on  phonation.  Journal of Voice. 25. (5). E215-E219. Feldenkrais, M. (1949). Body and mature behavior. New York: International Universities Press.

Acoustical Society of America’s Classroom Acoustics booklet.

Feldenkrais, M. (2015)

Killer, S.C., Blannin, A. K., Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with moderate coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PLoS One. 9 (1). e84154. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084154

Mathis, B.  Exercises for Voice . Retrieved from :


Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene -part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved from:

Thurman, L. & Welch, G. (eds.). (2000). bodymind & voice. foundation of voice education. (Revised ed.). (Vols. 1-3).The VoiceCareNetwork.

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Unification of Your Choir’s Vowels

How does one obtain vowel unification in an ensemble? How do your singers know what you want? During a performance how do you communicate to the singers that the [a] needs to sound more like the [a] in the word “father”.

Using gestures is helpful to any singer and may even be necessary for those tactile learners in your choir to retain information and learn more easily.

 There is a growing body of research indicating gestures and Kinesthetic Symbols used by teachers are powerful symbol systems that promote learning, retention, and transfer of learning. Gesturing is extremely important in cognition, problem solving, and cognitive development. Students who are taught to gesture as they learn, learn more. Merely observing the teacher gesturing during instruction increases achievement. Dr. Spencer Kagan

 While working with my young Chinese singers it was apparent that we didn’t always transfer our unification of Latin vowels from our choral training exercises to the text in the music. You might imagine how often a singer may need to be reminded of what that sound should look like on their face especially if they are singing a foreign language.

The Latin taught at the Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies uses the long [o] as in the word “oval”. The children in particular, have been accustomed to singing through a small opening with their mouths. Much of the time, the top and bottom teeth are touching and the jaw is tense. I tell them singing with the mouth this closed is like trying to walk through a closed-door!

I can say fang4 song1 or relax all day, but it is easily forgotten as there is no part of their language that requires a relaxed tongue and jaw.

Dave Munger shares his experience witnessing the miraculous use of gestures although outside the context of singing – I was a member of my high school debate team, and I did fairly well, but my partner Glenn, always got better marks from the judges. Most often, they praised his hand gestures, which we proclaimed to be “expressive” and “informative.” One year our topic was arms control, and our opponents were arguing that “NATO standardization” could help reduce U.S.arms sales. Glenn didn’t understand their argument, so during our precious three minutes of preparation time, I explained it to him. Then he stood up and delivered his rebuttal, using the most graceful hand gestures imaginable. The judges unanimously said on their ballots that they thought Glenn understood the arguments better than any of the debaters on their side.

Could those hand gestures really be the key to Glenn’s high marks from the judges? Research suggests that the person doing the gesturing can learn more effectively than someone who doesn’t gesture while learning. Maybe during the course of his speech, Glenn actually did come to understand the argument better than anyone in the room.

In the choral setting, creating hand gestures for the five basic Latin vowels that are relevant to one’s culture may solve many problems. The Latin vowels we stress in choral training are [u], [o], [a], [e], [i]. In this culture, they often refer to their smiling muscles as ping2 guo3 or apple. Shaping the mouth as if biting into an apple solves many issues. What better way to remove tension than to smile.

Secondly, the [i] vowel is extremely bright among Chinese singers. They are taught in English class to over-emphasize the vowel which places the tone completely in the nose, bringing the top teeth in contact with the bottom and causing the jaw to clinch. To create a more pleasant tone, we alternate between placing our pinky finger between the teeth and pulling the hands floor to ceiling.

The most important thing for me in using gestures for vowels is that the gestures are easily made flowing naturally from one to the other.

You will see in the videos provided the gestures custom-created for my Chinese singers and then gestures created by other conductors for their choirs. The important thing to remember is to keep it simple and be consistent no matter what you decide is the most effective use of gestures.


Chorister Nikko demonstrates vowel hand gestures created for our Chinese young singers.

Niccole Winney, Music Educator:

Jamea.Vowel.Gestures (2)

Jamea Sale, Contributing Author:

Student model compliments of Allegro Choirs of Kansas City.

Continue reading Unification of Your Choir’s Vowels