I have been singing with seniors for several years now and it recently occurred to me how little I know about their voices. In music school, we devote plenty of time to studying children’s developing voices, but we've never gone into what happens after a child hits puberty and their voice is “developed.” I currently sing with seniors in an intergenerational choir (“Intergen”) that combines Ithaca College students and residents of a local nursing home. We meet once a week to sing fairly simple repertoire, as there is a wide variety of talent and ability within the group. We often work on things like accuracy of pitches/rhythms, diction, and tone. However, I've noticed that tone often poses the greatest challenges; this also seems to be the case in other intergenerational choirs, like church choirs.
What I enjoyed most about this workshop was that it addressed the issues of tone and resonance in seniors by (1) explaining why these certain challenges evolve as people age, and (2) offering solutions to these problems. I think the most important think that Dr. Brunssen pointed out was that “every singer, at every age, has vocal limits,” and the problems presented in seniors are not necessarily better or worse than the vocal challenges that any other age group may face—they’re just different. The only way to overcome these challenges is to be aware of them and realize possible solutions. I particularly liked some of the exercises she suggested as potential solutions to better tone. For example:
· Hum an “mm.” Then become aware of the pressure of your bottom sitting against the chair, and hum that “mm” again, this time into your bottom.
· Buzz on a “v.” Then lean over (placing your elbows on your knees), become aware of your pubic bone, and buzz the “v” again, this time into your pubic bone. (She calls this the “Tucky Wucky.”)
· Buzz on a voiced “z.” Then put your fists on your obliques, and buzz the “z” again, aiming to push your fists outward. Become aware of different parts of your body (bottom, pelvis, hips, etc.) and see how that changes your sound.
These exercises really inspired me by givung a variety of simple fixes to an otherwise daunting challenge. I look forward to sharing what I learned with my peers and implementing these strategies in my own teaching.