Music educators must consider the primary purpose of beginning early adolescent classes and choirs. The Cambiata Concept advocates that vocal/choral music should be performed, but it should not be performance driven. The principal principle pursued should be the educational goal of the class. After the singers become respectable musicians, the emphasis of the class may center around their performance responsibilities. Teachers should have two basic goals for the membership of the Beginning Choir: (1) to learn to read music and develop basic musicianship, and (2) to master the fundamental principles of good vocal/choral technique. Specific behavioral objectives might be to:
- Develop vocal skills.
- Learn to sing in tune with good tone quality.
- Develop sufficient skill in reading music to carry a part independently.
- Learn to use and understand basic music terms.
- Perform a wide variety of suitable, artistic music within the range and textual understanding of the students.
- Develop a sense of how to sing in harmony first through melody-part style music (easy polyphony) then through music with harmonic structure (easy homophony).
- Gain a knowledge and an understanding of choral works.
- Identify basic musical forms.
- Develop discrimination in listening.
- Develop a degree of refined artistic interpretation of the different musical styles and moods.
Activity in class should include:
- Teaching a structured, sequential method of sight reading based on numbers or syllables without the assistance of the piano.
- Teaching a structured, sequential method of vocal technique that is supported with proper vocal exercises.
- Initially teaching literature that is written in a melody-part style, then moving to literature that has harmonic orientation.
- Singing choral literature (preferably four parts, if possible) designed for adolescent voices that supports the principles of good choral technique and promotes good vocal health for both male and female singers.
- Stressing in-tune singing by using proper vocal exercises and by using acappella literature to reinforce the need to be tuneful.
- Developing precision in attacks and releases and working for clear, distinct diction, proper balance, and blend.
- Developing skill at subordinating an inner or supporting part of another line in music.
Frequently testing boys’ voices to determine proper classification and to diagnose and correct any difficulties.
- Listening discriminately to students’ voices for tone quality, pitch, articulation, and ability to blend.
- Using small-ensemble singing (octets and quartets) to strengthen students’ independence.
- Providing solo opportunities for selected students.
- Introducing the principles of Latin diction and reinforcing the correct Latin vowel sounds with vocal exercises.
- Teaching a degree of musical sensitivity and awareness of dynamics, tempo, phrasing, style, and mood.
The beginning choir, whether it is in middle-level or high school, is composed of singers with unique voices. Both males and females will be in various stages of puberty (before, during, and after). Their voices are changing and maturing. It is important to consider the range and tessitura limitations of their voices in all aspects of their choral experiences during these years. Proper voice classification is essential to successful singing with these young students. Directors should be very careful not to designate the girls as true sopranos or altos but allow each girl to vocalize throughout the entire compass of her voice and interchangeably to sing both soprano I and soprano II (alto) parts in the literature or singing literature with two equal parts.
Pertaining to scheduling, there are those who suggest that the beginning choir should meet only twice weekly or every other day. Much can be accomplished with such a meeting schedule, and it still affords the singers opportunities to explore other areas of the program. However, the beginning choir truly is the training organization of the sequential program and it is important that as much musical foundation building be done during the year(s) as possible. If scheduling will accommodate it, daily classes are recommended.
In devising a seating plan for the beginning choir, it is important to consider placing the singers in sections according to the phases of their voice change. Treble boys (unchanged) are seldom happy sitting with the girls even though they might be singing the same part. It is best to place them with the cambiatas (boys in the first phase of change) but near the girls with whom they will be singing. Because it is necessary always to be aware of the progress of the boys’ vocal mutation, directors should place the fellows in sections (trebles, baritones, tenors, and cambiatas) in front and center of the choir so the director can move among them as they sing. The girls may be placed behind and to each side of them.
Whether or not the beginning choir serves as a performing organization is optional depending upon the desires of the director and the occasions that might be available. As mentioned previously, performance should not be a priority goal of the members of the beginning choir. It should be used only to motivate the students to learn to sing well and become good musicians and it should be limited to one or two occasions during the year.
Teachers seem to look forward to the period(s) in the day when they work with their advanced group(s). It is very easy to foster the attitude that the advanced groups are more important than the beginning and intermediate groups, but doing so is very detrimental to the success of a sequential choral program. In reality, the beginning choir could be considered more important, because it is in that group that students learn the most important aspects of good choral technique and musicianship. It is their dedication to the beginning choir that enables directors to reap the great satisfaction and musical rewards from the advanced groups. Students will sense any partiality shown toward the advanced groups, and that will hamper their progress as members of the beginning choir. Singers in the beginning group will feel second best. Master teachers will make the group with whom they are working at any period in the day feel that it is the most important group in the choral program.