Untangling the Conceptual Knot of Vocal Registration in Children and Youth Choirs
I attended an interest session entitled "Untangling the Conceptual Knot of Vocal Registration in Children and Youth Choirs" with presenter Craig Denison. Mr. Denison is the conductor of Florida's Singing Sons Boy Choir and possesses a wealth of knowledge on the subject of young people's voices. In his presentation, he was able to speak from personal experience when discussing the challenges that come with adding "timbre" to your ensemble's musical vocabulary. During this session, we learned about the scientific/anatomical, mental, social, and emotional aspects of vocal registration.
At the beginning of the presentation, Mr. Denison spoke to us in a high-pitched voice just to see how it would affect us. Throughout the hour, he spoke in many different registers, often making us laugh with impersonations of celebrities and fictional characters. It certainly kept things fresh, but really he was doing it to prove an important point, and I quote: "A change in register has the ability to elicit very strong reactions in listeners for social, emotional, and scientific reasons." He was showing us the wide range of sounds that he could produce with his speaking voice, and as I listened, I realized that there can be just as many possibilities for the singing voice if you know how to manipulate your sound in a healthy way.
One of the first things Mr. Denison taught us was that there are four main schools of thought when it comes to making decisions about vocal registration.
Mr. Denison went on to explain that this concept is not at all intuitive to young singers. People associate timbre with gender and/or with pitch; students are unaware of the range of conceivable sounds they are able to create. At this point, the discussion segwayed into an exploration of how we, as conductors and teachers, can actually go about incorporating our understanding of vocal registration into our teaching. He taught us how to use "messa di voce" and glissando exercises to test students' ranges and help them discover transition places in their own voices. He even shared beautiful clips of his own students making such discoveries as they performed the exercises. The single most valuable concept that I took away from this session was that, for a young student, learning about vocal registration is a very personal, emotional, and challenging process, because young voices often change quite rapidly. It is the teacher's responsibility to provide the student with the opportunity to experiment with his or her instrument until an understanding is achieved. Once the student has found his or her own potential as a vocalist, then the teacher and student can begin to delve into music in exciting new ways!
This session was fascinating and extremely informative. I learned that vocal registration has a huge effect on the sound of an ensemble and that it is important to address timbre in a choral setting, and I learned that ensuring each individual student's unique understanding of vocal registration contributes greatly to musical growth.
Mr. Denison also introduced us to a program called Praat that helps singers to understand vocal registration. On this website, you record yourself singing, and as you listen to the playback, the software generates a graph of your sound. It shows dynamic changes, pitch changes, and register changes in all different colors, giving you a comprehensible visual representation of exactly what your instrument is doing. Here's a link to some more information about Praat: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/linguistics/corpora/material/PRAAT_workshop_manual_v421.pdf Check it out! It's pretty cool!
-Juliana Child, Ithaca College '18
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