(An excerpt from the interest session “Enriching the Life of the Aging Choral Singer,” presented by Sarah Parks during the 2014 ACDA North Central Division Conference)
When working with aging singers, three areas of vocal production that need special attention are posture, breath and articulation. Encouraging a buoyant, lifted posture throughout the rehearsal will set singers up for a better connection to proper breath support. As singers age, they may still be able to take in a fair supply of breath, but it becomes more difficult to sustain the proper breath pressure needed for lengthier musical lines or a full range of dynamics. Choir directors must remember to include exercises that encourage a longer sustained release of breath. One exercise that can be used throughout the rehearsal is blowing into a closed hand that is pressed against the mouth. The pressure of the hand on the mouth creates resistance, causing the release of breath to be distributed more evenly. A second exercise is to speak a resonant alphabet on one breath, repeating the exercise at an even slower tempo. Aging singers may also experience significant changes to the oral cavity, a slowing of the rate of speech, and hearing loss. For this reason, it is important to find ways to reinforce clear, precise articulation in vocalizes and in ensemble literature.
Frequently, older performers are interested in individual vocal development but have limited income or an insufficient level of self-esteem needed to consider private voice instruction. Adding a group lesson element to the choral rehearsal gives ensemble members the opportunity to understand more about the singing process on an individual level. The learning experience is heightened as one listens to the vocal development of other members in the group. Group instruction is also a wonderful environment to nurture strong social bonds, a benefit that is most essential to the aging.