Curricular and Pedagogical Tenants
As a conductor and music educator, I have found much value in creating a working document that reflects a rigorous curriculum connected to our National Standards for Music Education. My curriculums are catered to each level of choir and include learning targets in individual vocal technique, choral blend, expressive performance, music literacy and theory, and rotating units connecting music and culture/history. Each are explained below.
As I started conducting choirs, I quickly realized that if I wanted my choir to sound good, I needed to guide my students through their own journey of vocal development. Typically, I start this training in warm-up exercises and apply techniques throughout the entire rehearsal. I have found that having students create and use a body movement to match vocal exercises is a crucial step in the learning process. Each year, I start with posture and breathing which energizes the voice. We then explore the various areas of resonance and vertical vowel placements. Finally we add technical facility through various articulations, dynamics, and diction. When individuals sing with an open and free body and voice, the choir sounds rich and resonant.
Once individuals can sing freely, we can then explore our choral blend. To me, choral blend comes from teaching the choir about vowel sounds (IPA is helpful here), listening to tuning order, and rhythmic accuracy. To teach this, I again will rely on movement and modeling and exploration. I find that rhythmic accuracy is also aided by including international folk dance within the rehearsal process. Not only is this fun and educational, it serves to as a wonderful bonding exercise for our ensemble members.
In my years as a choir conductor, I have also come to realize that an oft-neglected element of the choral art is the interpretation and expression of the text of the musical work. Middle and High School level students so frequently are not asked to understand and express the words they are singing – especially when the words are not in English. By discussing the meaning of the texts and actively connecting the words with our current lives, students can connect on a much deeper level. In class, I love practicing the facial and body expressions that organically arise from our interpretations. Therefore, my choirs are often able to perform at a level that is both aurally and visually engaging.
Perhaps one of my biggest passions in teaching music is facilitating music literacy. I simply love teaching students how to read music. I have found that this skill empowers them in so many ways. With the ability to read music, they no longer need to rely on a piano, a teacher, Youtube, or any external source to study music. They can do it for themselves. At first, the process is slow, but by March, the students are simply unstoppable. Many even start composing themselves and bring their works to our classroom. I have a clearly-defined pedagogy for teaching literacy that I have crafted and revised over the past 15 years. I typically use a moveable do system for pitch, and a neutral syllable-chant for rhythm. Students of mine are constantly moving (dancing, conducting, clapping, etc) to aid their ability to read the music. Adding movement allows their brains to come alive and open to new concepts of literacy. I purposefully employ higher-order thinking by asking them to analyze and transfer information to translate the dots and lines into sound. My students never complain about learning to sight-read. Instead, they crave it once they see how empowering it really is.
Lastly, I love connecting my school students with community artists such as college choir conductors, professional singers, and professional actors. I am always searching for great role models and inspiring speakers. Not only can students learn a lot from area professionals, but they can also see how music and the arts foster a deep connection to the community and world around us.