Skill Building Sequence for Choral Ensembles
Volume 1. Teacher’s Guide for Children’s Choir
By Jennifer Scott Miceli, Ph.D.
n the Foreword to her very engaging and informative new book, Dr. Jennifer Miceli reveals the many dimensions and unique diversity of her career path and experiences as a professional choral director, music educator, educator of music teachers, and as a performing musician. Her readers learn that her music teaching and performance venues have involved and included choirs comprised of professional musicians and choral section leaders as well as amateur singers. The choirs she has directed include musicians of varied levels of training and experience from youngsters of pre-school age and children with special needs to intergenerational and accomplished professional choirs and choral ensembles.
Although every singer as musician within a choral group brings unique, creative skills and understanding to each rehearsal and concert, quoting Dr. Miceli, “As choristers we breathe together, intone the notes off the page, and unleash the glorious sound of human voices singing in harmony—it can be, and often is, transcendent.”
While such deeply meaningful and intensely artistic expression invokes innate and acutely emotional responses in choristers, regardless of their ability to read music, in depth comprehension and multi-levels of expression are definitely enhanced through music literacy. Just imagine the empowering results for young singers and their audiences if elementary school children as choir members are prepared by seamless, embedded technique during rehearsals with the knowledge and skills to learn music on their own, self-taught, rather than learning their vocal scores from the choir accompanist, the singers next to them, or the choral director as teacher.
This highly innovative book by Dr. Miceli introduces a unique Skill Building Sequence for choristers of all ages, music backgrounds, levels of notational literacy, and performance experience. Based on literature, this fresh educational approach involves movement and evaluation that enables young vocalists to excel at reading music. This carefully detailed technique follows a sequential process that includes sections entitled, A Literature Based Approach, Bringing Meaning to Notation, Assessment, Skill Building Model, and How to Use This Teacher’s Guide. This book includes nine individual treble arrangements of folk songs of diverse cultural origins. As a group, they provide a rich and varied palette of musical languages, forms, tonalities, rhythms, colors, timbres and textures—some familiar and others new to young choristers. As such, they are essential bridges and conduits to newborn music literacy and skills, serving as major avenues to multicultural education, acceptance, and appreciation.
The goal of this vitalizing, enthralling and instructional publication by Dr. Miceli as a contribution to literacy, education and performance for young choral singers, their teachers, and choral directors is to introduce a literary, concise, and highly functional instructional method and guide to instill in young vocalists powerful, personal music literacy and learning skills for empowering rehearsals, performances, and lasting enjoyment throughout a long lifetime of making beautiful music of fine quality.
Using a skillfully applied, creative yet scholarly approach, Dr. Miceli has initiated her Skill Building Sequence through implementation of this precisely structured systematic sequence. Both veteran and novice choral directors and educators can nurture significant improvement in the music reading abilities of their students and choristers with use of this valuable Teacher’s Guide. This specialized music literacy technique employs a progression of music-related activities that elevate cognitive, auditory, and vocal recognition and understanding of diversified tonalities and meters in choral works.
This Teacher’s Guide based on music literature will be especially helpful to children’s choir directors, educators of choral teachers and directors, and to college students of music education. Children’s choral directors who will gain valuable knowledge and benefits from this skill enhancing system and Teacher’s Guide include directors of both public and private school youth choirs and of choral ensembles within their local communities. Many choral teachers and skilled directors will have knowledge of and an affinity with principles of the Kodály approach (oake.org) and Edwin E. Gordon’s Music Learning Theory (giml.org) which are integral components of The Skill Building Sequence designed and introduced by Dr. Miceli.
By applying this uniquely structured music literacy enhancing series of learning activities to nine different treble arrangements of folk songs from diverse, global cultures and traditions, Dr. Miceli provides a student-friendly, accessible instructional sequence, carefully organized and presented according to tonality groupings for use in rehearsal and teaching venues. These tonality groupings are: Major; Harmonic Minor and Natural Minor; and Dorian, Mixolydian and Pentatonic.
Dr. Miceli has presented the nine culturally varied folk songs in three sections, as follows:
– This section includes Britten’sThe Sally Gardens in Major tonality and Duple meter and Marienwürmchen by Brahms/Goetze, also in Major tonality and Duple meter. Also included is Celtic Cradle Song by Hugh in Major tonality and Triple meter.
– In this section, Cerny’sEj, Lásko, Lásko is presented in Harmonic Minor tonality and Triple meter along with Who Can Sail? by Julseth-Heinrich, also in Harmonic Minor with Triple meter. The third choral selection is Dodi Li by Chen/Rao in Natural Minor tonality and Duple meter.
– This section includes Crocker’sThe Drunken Sailor in Dorian tonality and Duple meter as well as Old Joe Clark by Goetze in Mixolydian tonality with Duple meter. Also included in this section is Arirang by Herrington in Pentatonic tonality and Triple meter.
Through reading this book and incorporating its principles in their choral instruction, teachers and choir directors can guide young choristers along an exhilarating educational path. By learning and experiencing diversified tonalities and meters as well as variances in styles and tempi as revealed in this multicultural collection of folk songs, young singers gain music literacy in rehearsals and performances while performing music literature in diversified and combined tonal and metric notation. In addition, choral teachers, directors, choristers, and audiences gain valuable comprehension of cross-cultural-and-curricular diversity.
By introducing and using these skill enhancing sequences gradually and regularly during instruction sessions and rehearsals, teachers encourage and enable choristers to gain independence in their comprehension and performance of choral music. As choral educators and directors guide students and singers through the educational process as given in the Literature Learning Schema, this process may be modified and adapted as needed. Quoting Dr. Miceli, “Teachers should feel free to truncate, adapt, or extend the process to suit the learning needs of their choristers.”
Both Rhythm and Tonal Solfège are essential for supporting choral singers’ capabilities of vocalizing music notation with appropriate expressive meaning. Equipped with this ability, they can engage in bodily movements and skilled vocal tonalities. They can comprehend and perform musical passages and compositions independently, without the necessity of imitating their accompanying pianist’s playing of the vocal parts.
In her Teacher’s Guide, Dr. Miceli advocates use of Edwin E. Gordon’s rhythm syllables. Application of these syllables is based on auditory perceptions of music rather than on how music notation is perceived visually. It focuses on functions of beats rather than note time values. By teaching young singers this rhythm syllable system, choral directors and teachers equip them with a valuable vocabulary and tool for quality independent music performance.
In a similar way to Gordon’s syllable system for rhythm, the moveable DO, LA based minor tonal system utilizes tonal syllables based on music sounds rather than the visual perceptions of music notation. Since major and minor tonality have distinctly different sounds, they are assigned separate and distinguishable resting tones, DO-Major, LA-Minor. Each mode also has a distinctive and unique resting tone. Choral singers can employ these resting tones and associated tonal syllables as essential tools for recognizing and using tonalities and modes correctly and confidently in making music.
Every skill enhancing sequence is partnered with a Continuous Rhythm Rating Scale that mirrors the meter of the corresponding choral octavo along with a Continuous Tonal Rating Scale matching the choral octavo tonality. These scales provide excellent measuring methods to measure and assess the musical improvements and achievement levels of each young chorister while strengthening the validity of the choral teaching program.
The structure of each Skill Building Sequence consists of three easily followed parts: Mind and Body Warm-Up, Literature Learning Schema, and Rhythm and Tonal Rating Scales. It is further divided into a series of nine steps, in the following order:
– This part is divided into two sections, Movement Exercises and Healthy Singing Mantra.
– This portion is comprised of seven distinctive skill processes: Meter Orientation, and Preparation Patterns; Rhythm Reading Exercises; Tonality Orientation, and Preparation Patterns; Tonal Reading Exercises; and Music Reading Exercises.
– This part includes the divisions of Rhythm Performance Rating Scale and Tonal Performance Rating Scale.
Dr. Miceli explains in detail how to use her Teacher’s Guide to the best benefit of students and teachers. For each folk song as choral octavo included in this volume, she gives the title, origin, arranger, publisher, voicing, tonality, meter, and tempo.
- Movement Exercises. – The Mind Body Warm-Up starts with nine Movement Exercises to develop and strengthen an accurate understanding of music tempo and meter using rhythmically chanted body movement instructions for choristers that correspond to meter and tempo of each choral octavo. Exercises are accomplished by tapping heels on macro beats (indicating tempo) and by patsching (patting) hands on thighs and performing bodily movements to the tempo (kept constant with the aid of a metronome). Movements include swinging arms backward and forward, swaying from side to side, and shifting weight from heel to toe while standing. Teacher and choristers eventually resume a seated position and tap heels to macro beat (tempo) while patsching hands to micro beat (meter), still following teacher’s chanted instructions. Quality Melodic Rhythm and Rhythmic Content are attained through these exercises.
2. Healthy Singing Mantra. – Following the movement exercises is the Mantra chanted in Rhythmic Context. Mantra emphasizes the Rhythmic Content principles of healthy, communicative singing: posture, breathing, tone, diction, and expressive text delivery.
- Meter Orientation and Preparation Patterns. – This phrase-focused educational process of reading music enables young singers to concentrate their attentions on rhythm learning, tonal learning, and then on both in combination. This procedure is applied to every choral octavo, divided into musical phrases. Dr. Miceli explains that through this process, students acquire “rhythm reading readiness.” Knowledge and use of meter and repetition of patterns prepares singers for music performance excellence.
- Rhythm Reading Exercises. – These exercises are based on the Rhythmic Content of the music phrases of each choral selection. Exercises culminate with students chanting choral lyrics in rhythm, well on their way to performing the choral octavo with confidence.
- Tonality Orientation and Preparation Patterns. – While singing the Tonality Orientation, the teacher performs the corresponding Curwen Hand Signs. Choristers listen and also sign. Demonstrating the Preparation Patterns, the teacher first sings each occurring tonal pattern of a song as staccato pitches, and choristers then repeat the pattern.
- Tonal Reading Exercise. – These exercises focus on the tonal content of each music phrase in a choral selection. Following removal of rhythm content and repetitive pitches from musical phrasing, the remaining prominent tonal skeleton sharpens student focus on tonal content. Teacher sings tonal patterns separately as staccato tones and points to a visual representation of the tonal skeleton. Students sing and read each tonal pattern.
- Music Reading Exercise. – These exercises connect rhythm, tonality, and all expressive components of a choral octavo. By singing the Tune-Up, teacher readies choristers to hear, comprehend, and read this exercise on tonal solfège. Then choristers and teacher sing the same phrase of the choral octavo with the lyrics.
The Rhythm Reading Exercises, Tonal Reading Exercises, and Music Reading Exercises included herein are available in PDF format at Skill Building Sequence.com. Teachers are encouraged to download the examples, which are intended for Interactive whiteboard or LCD projection. This convenience saves chalk, paper, and time; examples may be viewed or reviewed as needed. Printable Rhythm Rating Scales and Tonal Rating Scales are also available.
- Rhythm Performance Rating Scale. – During the semester, every chorister is asked to echo one or more duple or triple macro/micro rhythm patterns. A score of 5 indicates mastery of levels 1 – 4. Singers who achieve the score of 5 can patsch steady micro beats with confidence, tap steady macro beats, and chant melodic rhythm without need of the teacher’s guidance or assistance.
- Tonal Performance Rating Scales. – During the semester, every chorister is requested to echo two or more tonal patterns in demonstration of primary functions associated with the tonality of a choral octavo. A score of 5 indicates mastery of levels 1 – 4. Choral singers who achieve a score of 5 can sing dominant patterns of a choral octavo without need of the teacher’s guidance or assistance.
Dr. Miceli is featured in a teaching segment included in an NYSSMA Music Views DVD focused on 25 exemplary teachers in New York State. The segment featuring Dr. Miceli includes the learning sequence in her book, referred to in the DVD as Audiation Sequence for Choral Ensembles rather than Skill Building Sequence for Choral Ensembles.
From the haunting, sweet melancholy of the Irish tune, The Sally Gardens, arranged by Benjamin Britten with words by W. B. Yeats, in 4/4 time to the wistful strains of Ej, Lásko, Lásko, a Moravian folk song arranged by Lukáš Cerný in ¾ time to the wisdom of the Israeli love song from the Biblical Song of Solomon in the Old Testament in 4/4 time to the lively familiarity of the American folk song, Old Joe Clark, arranged by Mary Goetze in 2/4 time, Dr. Miceli guides the reader through each sequential principle and step of her comprehensive Skill Building Sequence on the way to a thorough literary understanding and performance readiness of these culturally and musically diverse choral octavo selections.
In conjunction with her own unique teaching style and objectives, Dr. Jennifer Miceli has incorporated elements of the Kodály approach, encouraging universal music literacy while helping young choristers develop and involve their intellect and emotions in the learning and performance of music. She has also included in her Teacher’s Guide principles and practices from Edwin E. Gordon relative to teaching audiation, or the hearing of music mentally with understanding, in developing her own sequential curricular methods and goals. This very innovative, engaging, educational, and thought-provoking publication will serve as a sequence of valuable teaching tenets and as a vital learning source, a significant choral studies reference, and as a true contemporary inspiration to choral directors, teachers, and choristers of all ages, backgrounds, interests, and levels of musical accomplishment. Dr. Miceli’s Skill Building Sequence is truly a vibrant gift for all who wish to engage in the art of making beautiful choral music for a lifetime.
Skill Building Sequence for Choral Ensembles – Volume 1. Teacher’s Guide for Children’s Choir by Jennifer Scott Miceli, Ph.D., is scheduled for publication on September 10, 2015, by University Press of America®, Inc.
Jennifer Scott Miceli, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Director of Music Education and Long Island Sound Vocal Jazz
Department of Music Chair, Long Island University, C. W. Post Campus (LIU Post)
Vice President, New York State Association of College Music Programs
Dr. Jennifer Miceli acknowledges her music education students and workshop participants for their insight and candid responses toward the publication of this book. She also extends special gratitude to choral directors, Ellen McCarthy, Sarah Houghton, Rae Jean Teeter, and Lawrence Tim and to master teacher, Dr. Elise Sobol, for their valuable expertise. She extends special thanks as well to Professor John “Captain” Meschi for his wizardry with notation software and to her husband, professional artist, James Miceli, who is responsible for the book’s fine layout and design elements.