SCVA Newsletter (on-line version) – June 2004


Calling All Candidates – Ken Tuttle, Past President
It's time to assemble the next SCVA Executive Board.  Serving the membership is a rewarding experience, and we are happy to welcome new faces to the board.   Any member interested in serving on the board should contact me for information on becoming a candidate, or to suggest someone you would like us to contact. 

Once our slate of candidates is complete, we will present a ballot to the membership for your votes.


Mary Purdy Awarded – Grace Sheldon-Williams, Executive Vice President
Congratulations to SCVA member and former Executive Board member, Mary Purdy, who has received the CMEA Choral Educator of the Year Award!  Mary has been teaching choral music for 26 years, the past 13 at Canyon High School, where she conducts five choral ensembles and teaches guitar.  Her teaching experience includes private piano and voice, choral and general music at both the junior high and high school levels, and college methods courses.  She has been the school's choice for Teacher of the Year three times - twice at Canyon High School and once at Stevenson Jr. High in East Los Angeles.   In 1997 she was nominated and received an honorable mention for the Los Angeles Music Center's prestigious Bravo Award, for which she was nominated again this year.  In 1998, she was a CMEA Southern Section nominee for the Southern California Music Educator of the Year.  She was the Minister of Music at Granada Hills Presbyterian Church for five years.  In addition to conducting and teaching duties, she has served as President of Southern California Vocal Association and Vice President of California Music Educators Association.  She is an active member of the Santa Clarita Choral Educators Association.  In addition, she is a charter member and the Associate Director of the Santa Clarita Master Chorale, and also sang with the Pacific Chorale in Orange County.  Mrs. Purdy received her B.A. in music education and M.A. in choral conducting from Cal State Northridge.  Her other interests are snow skiing, traveling, and spending time with her wonderful husband (also a singer), two cats, and friends.    Kudos, Mary!


Training the Uncertain Singer – Reprinted with permission from the Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America
When students cannot sing certain pitches, it is not an indication that they are tone-deaf.  The amount of talent, gift, or innate ability to sing tunefully varies only slightly among individuals. Educators now believe that children who become involved in the music-making process at a very early age have a greater capacity to make music as adults than those who begin making music later in life.  To teach singing effectively to adolescents, directors must believe that all their students are capable of singing in tune, and then transfer that belief to those with whom they work daily.

In most cases, the inability to match pitch is a result of a lack of understanding about the singing voice.  Students often relate the singing voice to the speaking voice.  They do not realize how much energy it takes to produce tones substantially higher than those they use in speaking.  This is particularly true with the young baritone.  However, any students who are inexperienced singers might have to be taught to understand their vocal instruments and how to use them properly before they can sing tunefully.

After proper voice classification, many inexperienced singers who might have been singing untunefully in the first session of choir or music class will automatically begin to match pitch in a day or two.  Placing them in the correct section allows them to use their comfortable singing tessitura.  Instructors should make a  mental note of which students were having trouble during the voice-classification procedure.  During each of the first several sessions together, directors should pass in front of these students several times to determine if they are in fact beginning to sing tunefully.  If, after several sessions together, some of the students are still having trouble matching some of the pitches, it will be necessary to give them individual attention.  Obviously, the success of the overall group sound is jeopardized until directors deal with the problem.  Observation of different choirs at choral festivals reveals that one of the most common mistakes choral directors make is to ignore the uncertain singers.  An even more deplorable practice is to ask uncertain singers to "mouth the words" and not sing when they cannot sing tunefully.  This approach is devastating to the morale and self-image of young singers who are having difficulty.  This only camouflages the problem and does nothing for the self-assurance of the singers who obviously realize they are not performing well.

Directors can best provide individual attention in several ten-minute segments alone with the student.  During the first ten-minute session, explain to the student that the difficulty is not the student's ability to sing in tune.  Students must be assured that after they learn to use their vocal instrument, they will be able to make a fine contribution to the singing group.  Directors should attempt to keep the students from feeling that their difficulty in singing is a problem because that feeling will cause the students to be harder to teach in the succeeding times together.  Students should be led to understand that learning to sing is just as easy as learning to count or to read.  If they work hard and attend to their difficulties, they will learn to sing well.

It is difficult to believe that adolescents might not understand the simple concepts of up and down and high and low, but occasionally they do not.  In the first session with the individual students, directors should play or sing some high and low pitches and ascending and descending scales to determine if such is the case.  If the students confuse high and low or up or down, a few minutes of helping them to recognize the difference is generally all that is necessary to correct the lack of understanding.

Adolescents can learn to sing a melodic pattern more easily than they can match isolated pitches that are not related to each other.  Therefore it is better to continue the first session with a simple melodic pattern played or sung at different pitch levels than to play or sing a single pitch and ask the students to sing it.  The simple childhood chant (so, so, mi, la, so, mi) is a good melodic pattern to use.  Without any indication from the voice or the piano, ask the students to sing the childhood chant where it is most comfortable in their voices.  Sing or play the pattern back to them at the same pitch level; then move up one-half step and sing or play the same pattern, and ask the students to sing it.  If they are successful in moving up one-half step, move up another and ask them to sing the pattern at that level.  Continue to move up and down above and below the initial pitch that the students chose to sing.  Each time they are successful, congratulate them.  If the students are unsuccessful, ask them if what they sang was correct.  They must realize when they are not matching the pitches.  If the students do not realize that they have sung the pitches incorrectly, move back to an area where they are successful, then ask them to sing the pattern again and congratulate them when it is correct.  Continue this process until the students are able to tell the instructors each time they have sung correctly or incorrectly.

As long as the teacher stays near the initial pitch level, the students will have success matching the pitches.  As the teacher moves upward, a pitch level will be reached in which the students are not using enough energy to match the correct pitches.  At this point, instructors should take a different approach.  The interval of an ascending fifth (do up to so) is a good interval to use to help the students move into the area of the voice where they are tunefully uncertain.  Place do in the area of the voice where they have been successful but where so will occur in the area of the voice that they have been unable to reach.

Another method to achieve the same results may be used.  Tell the students to cup their two hands together about waist high, pretend the sounds are in the palms of the hands, and, with the leap to the second pitch of the pattern, lift both hands quickly above the forehead.  The teacher should stand in front of the students and go through the same motion, which will provide a stimulus.  Occasionally the students will overshoot the higher pitch, which is acceptable because the process will have freed the upper voice.

One session with uncertain singers is insufficient.  Instructors will find that the students will revert to the uncertain singing when they are put back with the other singers.  It is essential to hold several sessions with the students, each time doing basically the same thing, constantly reinforcing the successes with praise, and questioning the lack of success until the students overcome their inhibitions and sing with confidence and energy on correct pitches.  Place the uncertain singers near the strongest vocalist in the section when they sing with the group., recruiting the tuneful singers to serve as helpers.

The octave difference between females (and unchanged voices) and males whose voices have already changed may make it difficult for males to relate well to female pitches, so female instructors may have difficulty assisting male uncertain singers.  This can be alleviated by inviting a male tuneful singer from the group to attend the sessions with the uncertain singer and to demonstrate with his voice.  The uncertain singer soon learns to relate to the tuneful singer's voice because it sounds in the same octave and has a very similar timbre.

During the last several years as professor of music at Florida State University, Irvin Cooper conducted a chorus of all the students enrolled at the Blessed Sacrament School in Tallahassee.  He would never exclude a student because of untunefulness, and, believe it or not, he never had uncertain singers.  Individual attention was the secret to success.  It takes time and a good bit of extra effort on your part as an instructor, but the rewards are great!

CVMIA is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to promulgating tenets of the Cambiata Concept, a comprehensive philosophy and methodology of teaching vocal music to early adolescents.


Junior High Honor Choir – Debbie Montpas, Vice President - Junior High/Middle School Honor Choir
The Junior High/Middle School Honor Choir concert is quickly approaching.  You will not want to miss this wonderful program under the masterful direction of Linda Spevacek.

The concert begins at 4 p.m. and will take place at John Adams Middle School. (2425 16h Street in Santa Monica) Also featured will be performances by our Vocal Solo Competition finalists:

Ryan Antal, Fountain Valley High School
Katherine Cole, Harvard-Westlake School
Ryan Crane, Lutheran High School
Jennifer Lehmer, Tesoro High School
Katherine Pynoos, Harvard-Westlake School
Karina White, Fullerton Union High School
Madelyn Ross, John Adams Middle School

We hope you will be able to attend this special afternoon of music!


Fall In-Service – Mark Henson, President
I am very much looking forward to planning our next SCVA Fall In-Service.  Your suggestions regarding possible keynote speakers, topics to be presented, etc. will be greatly appreciated.  Please email me with your suggestions or questions so that I can get busy planning an exciting and inspiring day for all of us.

As you think about the In-Service, please consider the following:

Do you prefer the In-Service to take place in September or October?  Do we want a reading session?  What kind?  How can we encourage brand new teachers to attend?  What issues do you face that you would like help with?  Are you interested in presenting a performance with one of your choral groups?  What have you "always wanted to see" at a music teachers' workshop?  How can Britney Spears make a fortune as a singer when she knows nothing about vocal technique? 

Okay, we might not get around to discussing Britney, but I definitely want to know what you'd like to see on the schedule!

I hope you are all enjoying the end of a successful year of music.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Other Important Information
SCVA Membership Application
Festival Host Application Form