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A Choir of One: Teaching Choral Pedagogy in the Private Lesson

I love choirs. I mean, I luuuuuuuv choirs! I love to conduct them, sing in them, listen to them, plan for them. All the things. Choirs are my favorite toy to play with. There is nothing like it on earth when a bunch of diverse humans get together to do something so fun, so vulnerable, and so impactful as singing. I can't get enough.

Over the years I've had to learn how to sing with good technique in the various choirs I've been in. I've sung professionally in choirs that required minimal vibrato for two hour-long concerts. I've danced around onstage while singing high Bs at full vibrato in an opera chorus. And I've sung with a classroom full of preschoolers learning about animal sounds and body awareness. Every one of them was a good time, and every one of them required some different singing from me. But every one of them I also had to figure out how to do on my own without much guidance from my own voice teachers, other than "be careful" and "take care of your voice."

Not really all that helpful, huh?

I think we can do better.

Having been a choral director in multiple capacities over the years, I know that it is really, really, really difficult to teach good vocal technique that meets the needs of every single singer in my group all of the time. I can try to have some individual time with each singer, but at the end of the day, my instructions are going to be general and vague enough that they can be applied broad brush. It's not ideal, but it's reality.

In the private lesson, however, I have a single student right there in front of me for however long they are there, and we really can dig down into what is needed for him or for her. It's a golden opportunity!

My number one goal as a private singing teacher is to prepare my clients for whatever real-world singing they will do. I want them to feel confident, prepared, and adaptable. Choral singing is real world stuff! And so to ignore choral technique in the private studio, in my opinion, is missing an opportunity to really prepare clients well, and make the experience even more enjoyable.

It's also a great opportunity for networking, by letting the choir directors your clients sing under know that you value their work and you want them and their choirs to be successful. Win-win!

One of the first things we can do is to get to know the styles and singing demands the choir singer needs to work on. Attending concerts, meeting with the directors, listening to recordings, and looking through the scores are all helpful for this. Gospel choirs will have different needs than academic choirs, and on and on. There are as many different genres of choirs as there are genres of solo singing, and they all have their own particular stylistic demands.

Once we've got a pretty good handle on what the stylistic demands are, then you can get down to business with your clients. You may not spend a whole lesson working on it, and you may not work on it in every lesson, but revisiting their choral singing needs will help them be the best choral singers they can be. It's worth our time and effort.

What do you do to help your clients sing well in their choirs? I'd love to know your thoughts! You can drop me a line or connect with me on Instagram, where I'm talking more about this topic this week. And if you're singing in a choir right now, I hope you really treasure the experience. After a couple of years of not being able to sing with others, I'm very much enjoying the opportunity to make music with others in this way. It's a true balm to my soul.

Just for fun, here's a recording of the Springfield Mid-America Singers performing the last movement of "The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass" by Carol Barnett. I was honored and challenged to have the final a cappella solo. I hope you enjoy it!


Blessing be upon your heads.

Bless the living, bless the dead.

Blessing be upon you, my people.

Blessing so that you may go

Lightly through this world of woe.

Blessing be upon you, my people.

Blessings, and may you embrace

God in guise of human grace.

Blessings now and forever.


They say God loved the World so dear

She set aside her crown

And cloaked herself in human shape;

They say that she came down,

And dwelt awhile among us here.

She came down

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