Ms. Kelly gave us several important pointers to be conscious of as we teach the older voice, and a handful of exercises that she uses with Encore. For physical and vocal exercises, she suggests:
- Physical warm ups of running in place, massaging jaw and arms, raising arms above body and sway, lift your shoulders up and down and make big rolls
- Sing with your thumb on diaphragm to physically feel the breath
- Warm up with step-wise exercises (large leaps are often more difficult), on “mi-mi-mi” (the E vowel lifts the soft palate)
- Stay away from the “ah” vowel until later, because it does not promote an easy lifted soft palate
- Use metaphors and imagery (for example, “imagine your breath is like a dirty screen – now replace it with a clean screen so the air can flow through”)
- Explain over- and under-singing: you will find that under-singing is more common because they are not confident in their singing, but you have to explain that it can be just as unhealthy
- Phonation – lip trills and hums, use articulators (“taka taka”), don’t tense your lips
- Use straws to feel your breath moving and for deep breathing
One thing that Ms. Kelly stressed is the importance of continually checking posture. Sitting all day, looking at the computer, and old age, are all factors that go into a habit of bad posture. She uses the phrase, “Feel like your ears are over your shoulders.” This immediately straightens their posture. She also encourages not to use the word “drop” for “drop your jaw,” but instead, “relax your jaw.” The word “drop” is evocative of everything drooping down and collapsing in, which is what you want to avoid. Ms. Kelly mentioned that she does posture checks at least 30 times in a rehearsal – constant reminders are necessary especially when working with older aged people. She works with the hips and allows people to sit if they must.
Other things to consider if you are working with this age group: repertoire (consider tessitura, agility, stamina, and intervallic leaps, but also be sure it is enjoyable yet challenging), vocal ability (varied experience, diminished range/control, pitch problems, and excessive vibrato), and format and logistics of the rehearsals (music stands, seating, large print of the sheet music, buddy system for those who need it, rehearsal CDs *a great resource*, carpools – don’t let lack of transportation be the reason someone drops out of choir, daytime rehearsals when possible).
Jeanne Kelly implored us to understand that “music is their lifeline.” For a lot of them, this is their social time of the week. Yes, strive for excellence and challenge them, but don’t allow specifics to get in the way of them continuing to sing. This is an important takeaway.
This session was extremely helpful and eye-opening to how I can help my own community choir that I student-conduct back in Ithaca, the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. I know that I will try out some of the exercises she suggested and focus much more on posture throughout the upcoming rehearsals. I hope that you also find some of this post to be informative to improving your older-generational choir!
-Sunhwa Reiner ‘16, President of IC ACDA