Honor, All-State, and Festival Choirs, and Choir Tours: An Ethic of 'Do No Harm'?
Date: October 3, 2010
As you may or may not know, I've spent about 30 years in both voice education and voice health and recovery settings; twelve of those years were at the Fairview Voice Center, Fairview Rehabilitation Services, at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. During that time, ENT and Speech Pathologist colleagues have asked me to work with a significant number of choral and solo singers who have had ENT-diagnosed voice disorders. They have ranged in age from 10 to 73 years.
Some of the singers who were of school/college age had recently finished singing in an honor, all-state, or festival choir that had rehearsed for six to eight hours per day over two to six days, followed by a performance. Others had recently completed a choir tour of about seven to 10 days, with lots of talking and singing over wind and motor noise in busses, in-tour extra rehearsals, relatively frequent performnces, and sometimes staying in the homes of generous local hosts, with late-night talking after the performances. At least within a few days of returning home, upper and lower respiratory illness had struck a good many of the singers.
About a decade or so ago, I was an invited presenter at a summertime statewide high school honor choir event. My series of presentations was for any of the state's choral conductors who chose to attend (about 30, as I recall) and the general topic was voice education and voice health. The event also included three days of rehearsals of the singers with an invited conductor, followed by a morning concert. Observing the choir's rehearsal schedule, I spoke with one of the state's choral conducting leaders who had attended my sessions. He agreed that, before these rehearsals had begun, none of the honor choir singers had been rehearsing for three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, and 1.5 hours in the evening. He also agreed that, most likely, very few of the singers had had the opportunity to learn how to speak and sing with optimum vocal efficiency. And we both expressed a belief that these conditions were common any time that honor, all-state, and festival choirs were rehearsed anywhere.
So I suggested that he and I confer and write up some guidelines for organizers of honor, all-state, and festival choirs--and the conductors who conduct them--that would be consistent with good preventive vocal health and voice protection practices--and then submit them to Choral Journal. He indicated that he would have to take the idea to the office-holders of the organization of which he was a member. He did so.
And the idea was rejected by those leaders. To my knowledge, no such guidelines have ever been written.
A common 'first principle' of medical ethics among members of the medical profession is: Primum non nocere ( First, do no harm. ) **
How about members of the choral conductor and voice teaching professions? Do we need choral conductor ethics ? What would they be? What would the 'first principles' be?
Please comment, question, propose, argue, whatever comes to mind.
**Attributed to Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689), regarded as the father of English medicine, and based on the writings of the the Greek physician Hippocrates, in Epidemics, Book I, Section XI. In translation, he wrote ...make a habit of two things--to help, or at least to do no harm.
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