Developing Young Voices – The Healthy Way

Case Study: Moira, Teenage Girl, Age 15 ~

Moira came to me as a member of a local children’s choir. At age 15, she had never studying voice privately. As a member of the choir at her school and the community choir she had received excellent training that included theory, sight-singing and aural skills, different part assignments and varied repertoire appropriate to her age.

For children, I am a strong advocate of the children’s choir option for training the voice. As long as they are subscribing to healthy vocal training and appropriate literature it is the best way to develop a child’s voice.  

Because of the pandemic, Moira was no longer able to sing in choir. She needed a plan to continue her learning and advancing the skills she had acquired through singing in choir.

I am a firm believer not only in providing proper vocal exercises customized for each student, but in providing instruction in theory and sight-singing, aural memory then appropriate repertoire that will help her voice and mind continue to develop in a methodical way.

At the beginning each lesson while we converse about how her day is going and any issues she might be experiencing with her voice, we stretch our bodies and establish movement as an expectation while singing. We are sure to make our funniest faces too! We then move to descending vocal slides to warm up the voice in a gentle way continuing to use gestures that compliment the movement of the voice. Next, we progress to ascending penta-scales on a lip trill followed by full major scales ascending and descending. Then, we incorporate a few “flexibility” exercises that continue to utilize the same intentional breathing using different vowels. We shift to puppy whimpers followed by a glissando from the whistle register through the head voice, mixed register and chest voice. We ended with solfege exercises to shore up intonation before beginning the sight-reading exercise of the day.

When looking at the sight-reading exercises, we of course talk about time and key signatures and sing the scale that correlates as well as the penta-scale and arpeggio. Before sight-reading any exercise, we always talk about familiar patterns that she might see as well as any changes to those patterns. We always look for any tricky parts that could be something her ear may not be accustomed to hearing. Talking about these things before even attempting to count the rhythm or sing the intervals has been very helpful to making her an even stronger sight-reader.

Moira was very eager to learn languages. For her first assignment in something other than English, I chose Gia il Sole by Alexander Scarlatti in A flat Major. She was a very quick study to the Italian and because the piece is mostly based on ascending and descending scale work, she was able to focus on the language. She also fell in love with a piece that every young woman loves – Roger Quilter’s Love’s Philosophy in C Major as this was her first introduction to an art song for soprano voice. Even though some of the rhythms proved to be a bit challenging, because of the way Quilter set the words to time and melodic line, it wasn’t a challenge for too long. Moira has extensive capability in managing her air through long phrases, so the long phrases were not an issue for her. It was a perfect piece for her to learn text painting and expression through dynamics body/facial gestures. The third piece added to her repertoire was a bit of a challenge, but one that she was definitely up to. It was Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlan, arranged by Mark Hayes. This piece definitely presented her with recognizing intervallic patterns, but then understanding a deviation from those patterns. Because we had worked on certain breathing exercises in her vocal training, she was able to sing the octaves without strain and with great support. She also learned how to end a piece with great dramatic flare and not be afraid to do so. As far as the last note of the piece – It’s written to be sustained for twelve counts. She ended it strong after four. After all, the last note of a program like this can really be challenging to sustain especially on a high E for twelve full counts. Musically, the piece sounded lovely with the piano accompaniment playing a part of the main melody alone.

Now Moira is off to a little more Italian and a little Broadway so that she may have something to use at her high school musical audition.

Go Moira!

Published by

Lynn Swanson

Music Director & Organist, Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville, GA Music Director & Conductor, New South Festival Singers, Atlanta, GA Music Director & Conductor, Cobb Summer Singers, Marietta, GA Advisor to The Institute for Healthy Singing, The William Baker Choral Foundation former Assistant Director, Zhuhai Classical Children's Choir

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