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Teaching Tips for Choral Directors

Barbara Conable

Every single rehearsal give your students “a piece of the truth.” It will take no more than five minutes, but it will bring astonishing change in just a few weeks or months. I would begin, if I were you, with the lungs. Give your choirs and choruses handouts, showing the lungs from the front, the back, and the sides. Put the pictures right in their folders with their music, if you like, and just ask them to look at the pictures. Ask them to palpate (examine by means of touch) their collarbones and notice that the top of their lungs are above their collarbones. Ask them to palpate down their sternums to the bottom. Ask them to notice that the bottom of their lungs in front is even with the bottom of their sternums. Ask them to move their shoulder blades all over their backs and to be aware that there is lung underneath their moving shoulder blades. Keep referring them to their pictures. Ask them to notice and to Map clearly that no air goes below the bottom of their lungs. There’s lots of movement lower, but no air. Then put away the pictures and go on to the music. You will notice an immediate change, just after a short exposure to the truth. Some of your choir members will stop manipulating their bellies and begin to allow their breathing to become more natural because they won’t be having fantasies of air in their bellies, as so many do.

Then proceed, rehearsal by rehearsal, in whatever order pleases you, with pieces of the truth: ribs; rib movement, breathing joints, the cartilage between ribs and sternum, the diaphragm, the movement of the abdominal wall, the pelvic floor, the lengthening and gathering of the spine, balance on the arches of the feet, the jaw, the tongue, the lips, the pharynx. As your singers’ Body Maps are corrected and refined by the truth (in no more than five minutes, remember!) they will become more and more capable and confident. In terms of time, you can’ afford not to do it.

Be sure you take your pictures from anatomy books. Many, many technique books have inaccurate illustrations!

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