On Friday evening, our student chapter attended a session led by Ithaca College's own Dr. Derrick Fox. During the session, Dr. Fox shared some of his teaching philosophies and presented a wide variety of exercises that he uses in his own choral rehearsals. He began by saying, "If you want your students to be vulnerable and sing in front of you, then you have to do the same thing." He spoke to the importance of understanding the mechanics of your own voice so that you can better relate to the experiences that your students have as they sing. In order to promote healthy singing, it is essential for a conductor to be informed about technique so that they can be a good vocal model for their students, particularly when working with students who have not had formal voice training. He further explained that while it is necessary to know the proper vocabulary that is used to discuss vocal technique, it is usually more beneficial to present new concepts to students through imagery, visuals, and kinesthetic exercises.
Dr. Fox proceeded to examine vocal exercises that addressed a variety of issues. He reminded us that we should avoid "quick-fixes," stating that "nothing that works immediately is something you want to stick with." He suggested listening to recordings of new pieces with students so that they can develop a sense of the style of each piece before attempting to learn them. Once the learning process begins, singing should be considered a "full-body activity," according to Dr. Fox. He had everyone in the room participate in a few vocalises that utilized solfege, and he showed us physical gestures that can be paired with these exercises that provide students with kinesthetic representations of what is happening musically. The gestures helped us with several aspects of our singing, including tuning, breath management, dynamics, articulation, and more. For example, Dr. Fox demonstrated circular gestures to show gradual dynamic changes, and lifting gestures to prevent unnecessary tension. The specific exercises we examined during this session are outlined in the attachment below.
One exercise that was highlighted was the "messa di voce" exercise, which involves the ensemble singing a chord together and using their hands to show dynamic change. Dr. Fox suggested that this vocalise be paired with prolonged hissing so that students can practice sustaining their breath. He also presented an exercise that he calls the "tone-o-meter," in which he tips his arms from left to right, explaining that the tone should be brighter when he tips left and darker when he tips right. This activity requires students to observe the changes that occur in their bodies in order to create different tone qualities.
Interestingly, several of the exercises that Dr. Fox presented were adapted from warmups that he has heard brass instrumentalists use. One such exercise involved singing an ascending major scale on solfege at a fast pace adding one scale degree at a time (Do, Do-Re, Do-Re-Mi, etc.) As students perform this vocalise, they are required to listen closely to each other so that "Do" remains in tune. Another technique that can be used in both choral and instrumental settings is audiation. Dr. Fox led us in an activity in which he conducted while we audiated a well-known song (such as The National Anthem), and he asked us to come in together on a specific word. This is an excellent test of students' ability to internalize pitch; they are able to practice hearing what a note sounds like before they produce it, which is an important skill for ensembles to develop so that they can avoid going flat or sharp.
Dr. Fox's session provided all in attendance with a wealth of resources that can be directly applied to our respective teaching/learning environments. He provided specific examples of situations in which each exercise could be effective, and the participants left with a clear understanding of the main goals of each activity. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from Dr. Fox in our classes and rehearsals at Ithaca College!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer, & Matthew Coveney, IC ACDA Webmaster and Public Relations Chair
Welcome to our site!