VOCES8 is a classical a cappella octet from the United Kingdom—we actually saw their performance in the Jazz and A Cappella night concert the previous night, which I had thoroughly enjoyed. They were incredible performers with unbelievable blend and intonation; I also loved that they dabbled in a wide variety of repertoire, ranging from classical to jazz to pop to film music.
My favorite part of the group, however, was that they are not only incredible performers, but truly inspiring and innovative educators. In both of their sessions that I attended, they discussed what they called “The VOCES8 Method.” The philosophy behind their system is that “singing is for everyone.” They believe that singing and music are not only good within themselves, but also good for students because they improves so many other intelligences and exercise so many different areas of the brain. In their system, they attempt to address the three problems that stand in the way efficient music and vocal education:
1.) Fear—students are often afraid to sing alone, and if the teacher isn’t confident or competent enough to lead the group, the students will never be able to overcome that fear.
2.) Finances—often times, teachers and schools do not have the resources to support a sufficient music education program.
3.) Time—schools will often cut music programs or music classes when class time is limited in the school day.
In their first workshop, “The VOCES8 Method: A Musical Wake-Up for the Voice, Body, and Mind,” they began by teaching us a short sample lesson. They started with a mirroring activity beginning with simple movements (in the hands, arms, head, shoulders, etc.) and then combining movements with simple sounds (such as sighs, sirens, etc.). They ended up teaching us the phrase “dum tee keesh tee” and asking us to take out the vowels so that it was a simple vocal percussion line, then added in movement of snaps and claps. This end product became one section of a three-part round.
They then taught us the other two parts to the round and divided the group into three smaller groups. Each group did one section and they layered each line into the round. When they said “change,” we would have to rotate around so that all three parts were happening. Although we were all musicians and singers, this was actually quite a brainteaser. They ended up teaching two melody lines and added them as well to create a five-part round. Once we had the round going, they had us experiment with dynamics and articulation.
After we worked through this whole process for about eight minutes, they debriefed it with us. They explained how they didn’t explain anything and simply instructed us to copy them. They introduced solfege without getting into what it is or how the solfege system works. They taught us an African rhythm with clapping without telling us that they had incorporated it.
My favorite part of this lesson was that it could be taught by anyone—they actually created this method with the intention of making it accessible to general classroom teachers and not only music teachers. In their own words, they’re aiming to be “secret agents of music” by just simplifying music learning to its most basic elements.
-Casey Kobylar, Junior, Co-Treasurer