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Speaking of Voice: “Excerpts from Margaret Hillis' 'At Rehearsals'," by Mary Lynn Doherty

EXCERPTS FROM MARGARET HILLIS' At Rehearsals (First published 1969) by Mary Lynn Doherty
At Rehearsals is an 18 page document written by Margaret Hillis (founder and conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for almost 40 years).  Her advice on singing, score marking and diction is comprehensive, concise and highly effective.   If it was good enough for the Chicago Symphony Chorus under Hillis’ direction, it is good enough for me!  While many in the profession refer to it as “the bible”, if you are not familiar with it, I have pulled several excerpts from the resource that I hope you might find helpful for you and/or your singers. 
“The Chicago Symphony Chorus never sings a reading of a work: we sing a performance.  There is a vast difference. At best, notation is an inexact blueprint of the composer’s intentions. We try to sing these intentions even beyond the limits of our musical maturity (but not beyond the intelligent use of our individual vocal resources).”
Choral singing demands intense awareness of the music itself, the conductor, the total sound, and each individual’s contribution to the whole.”
“The need is for the vocal care of the best solo singing, wedded to the musical intelligence of the ensemble singer.”
“Be sure you are contributing your best vocalism at all times.  This means:
1. An even register, with no pressing in the lower range and no pushing on top.
2. An even well-controlled vibrato throughout the whole dynamic range.
3. Clarity and consistence of vowels throughout the entire palette of possible vocal colors.
4. In forte singing, never going nearer than 10% of the loudest you can sing.  Do not give in to the temptation to force if you are sitting next to a bigger voice than yours!
5. Keep the piano dynamic alive and intense.
6. Listen to the total sound. Be aware at all times your relationship to it.
Here is a link to the full document, through The American Choral Foundation:
I received permission from Chorus America to reference the document, as they hold the copywrite.
Thank you to Scott Dorsey and Cheryl Frazes-Hill (, Associate Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Director of Choral Activities at Roosevelt University, for consulting on this post.