EVT in the Choir Schools for Adults

By Jaana Turunen

Recruiting new singers to amateur choirs is a constant job. Where can we find those versatile singers who sing with good pitch, sing with a wide range, confidently sing in harmony, blend well with other voices, learn fast, easily adjust to different styles, sight-sing perfectly, and represent all the necessary parts, from second basses to highest sopranos?

Yes, those ”conductors’ dream” choristers are rare to find. Instead of waiting for a miracle to happen in an audition, some choirs in Finland have chosen an another tactic: they have founded choir schools for adults to train new singers to choirs. After all, every excellent singer was once a beginner and nobody becomes excellent without training and practice.

Choir Schools as a Recruitment Tool

This past autumn I was asked to teach in one of these choir schools for adults. I was given a carte blanche to organize the course as I wanted. The first step was creating a list of things that should be included to this short course without knowing what kind of singers were going to participate. My list was following:

  • Basics of singing
  • Learning everyone’s own voice type, widening the range
  • Basics of sight singing
  • Basics of conducting
  • Basics of singing in parts
  • Basics of harmonies and rhythms
  • Different styles in choral singing
  • Performing and interpretation

We started from the very basics: how the voice is created, how to change the pitch, how to sing soft/ loud, how to sing without constriction, how to change the sound (quality) of the voice. This is where Estill Voice Training became useful.

Implementing EVT in a Choir School

Besides the isolated Figures and voice qualities, the Estill model explains how the voice works in a well-structured way. It also empowers singers to have control of their voices immediately in small tasks.

The whole Estill model is too much information at once for beginners in the context of the choir school. By taking parts of it, using prompts and letting participants explore themselves, it is possible to quickly and efficientiy introduce people the basics of the voice production system.

During the choir school program, we touched on the following topics:

  • The Power-Source-Filter model
  • Pitch production
  • Effort: locating the effort and learning to monitor it
  • True Vocal Fold Body-Cover (with help of onsets)
  • Vocal tract wide-narrowed & longer-shorter (as sob/cry and twang)
  • False Vocal Fold control
  • Head Neck and Torso Anchoring

The Power-Source-Filter model is a good starting point to introduce the complex system of voice production to a choir school. For many choir singers who don’t have any singing training or whose training was based on solo classical singing, this model helps singers actually take control of their voices by changing the source or the filter, instead of relying only on breath and support. That is an empowering piece of information for many choristers!

Good pitch is a fundamental thing in choir singing. I consider too flat or too sharp singing more as a technical problem than a singer’s ability to hear and correct the pitch by ear. Very few chorister are aware how to reach higher pitches or strengthen lower pitches. Learning the tools to widen the singing range is always a big joy for choristers. There are many Estill Figures that help here.

The Power of Practice

It’s always a surprise to notice that when it feels easy to sing, the voice just doesn’t flow out. There is always some effort needed. Learning about the true vocal folds is a starting point to understanding one’s attractor state. Anchoring exercises are always beneficial for singing, plus they also add interaction between the participants and strengthen the team spirit when practiced in pairs.

There are so many ways to use Estill Voice Training to help people sing and use their voices! Most people, especially beginners, just want to learn to sing better (whatever they mean by that). EVT can be a powerful and efficient tool in that process, even if mastering EVT is not their main goal. I think it is a major achievement when a choir school participant starts to change his or her way of thinking from ”I can’t do this” to ”I haven’t learned this yet”. Once they experience a change in the way they sing, it’s a huge motivational push to practice and learn more.

About the Author

Jaana Turunen is a professional musician, singing teacher, and choir conductor Estill Master Trainer, living in Kuopio, Finland. She holds a Master of Music from Sibelius Academy at University of the Arts Helsinki. In 2009, she founded the music school Maestra, offering group singing education, voice training, and music performances.
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