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Speaking of Voice: “If You Don’t Mind Me Asking: Have You Taken a Vocal Pedagogy Class?” by Mary Lynn Doherty

       A recent editorial in the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing (IJRCS), written by Dr. James Daugherty, challenges our profession to question our backgrounds in vocal pedagogy.  As the editor of this publication, Daugherty extends and promotes our field’s scholarship on a host of topics related to the choral arena.  In this particular piece, Daugherty raises several issues I found to be thought provoking and that warrant further discussion.  I am going to focus on just one of them here, but I encourage you to read the original article and to check out the journal (published by ACDA) when you have some free time!
       Daugherty has written extensively on vocal/choral pedagogy and in addition to teaching and conducting, he runs the School of Music Vocology Laboratory at the University of Kansas.  In his editorial, he shares some historical context for the topic of choral conductor preparation as it relates to vocal pedagogy, raising some important points for us to consider.  He writes that, although founded in 1924, it was not until 2009 that the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) required that doctoral students in choral conducting "must have detailed knowledge of vocal technique and pedagogy" (NASM, 2009, p. 142; taken from Daugherty, 2013, p. 1).  For undergraduates, it wasn’t until the 1990s that NASM required students have "sufficient vocal and pedagogical skill to teach effective use of the voice" (NASM, 1993, p. 36; taken from Daugherty, p. 1).  Daugherty raises the point that while the reference is there, NASM does not specify what is considered “sufficient” or “effective”.  Member institutions can determine this for themselves, so wide variants exist and exposure is probably highly dependent on the individual teachers who shape and offer the program.  As we all know, taking private voice lessons where the emphasis is on building an individual voice is not comparable to learning how to manage voices at many different stages of development within the ensemble setting.   The choral conductor has a great responsibility to support healthy vocal technique in the choral setting, and additional training is almost always required to supplement what we are exposed to in college. Many, many conductors seek this information on their own and become very knowledgeable.
       Daugherty says” I know of no choral conductor-teacher who sets out intentionally to hinder the optimal vocal efficiency of singers in ensemble or dispense inaccurate voice information. Yet, clearly, the expectations for our profession as a whole have been less than consistent and far from exacting ones when it comes to vocal pedagogy and voice care” (p. 1).  Additional training and education to supplement collegiate preparation is vitally important.  After all, we are responsible for a lot more than the music we program.  Our singers voices are in our hands and we have a great opportunity to support lifelong vocal health.
Daugherty, J. (2013). Editorial: Voice care training for choral conductors. International Journal of Research in Choral Singing 4(2), Spring 2013.  Published by ACDA.
Link to the table of contents from the Spring 2013 IJRCS, which includes the full text of the article
on April 7, 2014 4:19am
YES! This is why we wrote our book - in an effort to aid colleges and universities in teaching group vocal technique based on research, science, and expert pedagogues. It is gratifying that so many are using it as a text and a reference book. Vocal Technique - A Guide for Conductors, Teachers, and Singers - by Julia Davids and Stephen Latour, Waveland Press, 2012.
on April 7, 2014 10:17am
This ties in with another neglected area which I have often groused about in these forums: lack of specific music professional development for public school music teachers.  You are concerned with and you write about short comings in the preparation provided by NASM institutions, but there are many of us who have had much less preparation.  In college, I majored in music but never took a music education course and never intended to become an elementary school music and choir teacher.  But "life happens" and here I am. 
After 13 years teaching-- with each year including roughly 5 half-days of PD-- I can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of such sessions where my district music colleagues and I have had a formal training by any music professional, whether an outside person or one of us.  I have never had a mentor who was a music teacher.  My evaluations have been very good, but I have never been evaluated in my classroom by a music educator. 
I understand that we music teachers are many fewer in number and not as important in the scheme of things as our "academic" colleagues.  I understand that educational dollars and resources are limited.  Personally, I am happy to arrange my own PD, and have spent thousands of dollars and months of my time in my 13 years doing so, including 10 weeks of summer school at Eastman, Indiana, Wisconsin and other programs.  The little formal knowledge of have about vocal pedagogy comes from some of these courses plus several Saturday workshops in NYC put on by the NYC Public Schools and the Metropolitan Opera Guild--a 6 hour round trip drive for me.  These were not courses I needed for certification, nor did anyone require me to take them; they were what I  felt I needed.
However, my resources are limited, and district and state regulations usually lump special area teachers in with "regular" teachers when it comes to PD and recertification hours.  This creates real problems:  1)  useful PD is provided free by the districts for "regular" teachers but if we music teachers want music training we have to travel and spend to get it;   2)  some of that "regular" PD is required of us, even though it is not helpful, meaning we music teachers actually have to take additional PD beyond what we are already providing ourselves;   3)  the "regular" PD automatically counts toward state recertification hours, whereas getting recert. credit for what we provide ourselves can be difficult or impossible.
So here's my request from the trenches:  Please use your positions as authors, professors, speakers, and institutional leaders to educate districts, state ed. officials and legislators that the needs of music teachers are different, are not being met, and are in fact being exacerbated by their so called "educational" philosophy and regulations.  Please apply pressure to stop the misguided policies that do nothing to promote music education and professional development.  Demand that regulation of music educators be put in charge of experienced music educators with experience in the field.  Thank you.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 14, 2014 7:33am
YES! PLEASE!  At the beginning of my career, I spent thousands of dollars to attend many workshops each summer to meet the deficit I saw in my own knowledge/schooling.  Life changes curbed the availability of funds and time to continue those endeavors.  I do miss the connections made and experiences and knowledge gained in those workshops.  I highly agree with Bart Brush.