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Freeing the Voice (By Natalie Megules)

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the voice is Voice Teacher Natalie Megulesdefinitely the party music wafting out of that window. It can express our joys, our fears, and our excitements. What does it really mean to have a free voice, if we use it every day? Babies know more about this than adults do; any small irritation, desire, need, or discomfort is expressed by crying or screaming. When babies are particularly ear-shattering, adults comment, "What a set of lungs! They'll be a singer someday." Well, I hope so! And I hope even more that baby can hold on to that vocal freedom.

     As we grow and orient ourselves to the world around us, we have to learn to edit ourselves. "Ssh, it's not polite to be loud in church," or "Settle down!" or "Let's use our indoor voices," or "Children should be seen and not heard." The world isn't as safe as it was when my father was growing up and could run and play and scream unsupervised until dark, when mothers would simply come out on to the stoop and call their children in for dinner.  

     Children today have a whole host of voiceless, indoor activities with computers, e-mail, video games, and social networking and texting. As they move into the unsteady social hierarchy of middle school, they must edit themselves even more as they navigate what is acceptable to say and do to fit in. By the time we reach adulthood, we rely more and more on computers and e-mail to communicate.  I once taught a lawyer who told me of the tightness in her shoulders as she hunched over a screen eight hours a day. To create an electronic record of all correspondence in the office, she had to e-mail her boss, who was only a few doors away, rather than just taking a walk and delivering the message verbally.

     If we are speaking less and less during the day, how then do we free ourselves enough to be able to sing? The voice is an instrument like no other, because it is part of our body. It's much more personal if we can't get it to "work." As singers, we need to get back to that place of relaxation and freedom that we experienced when we were children, and a voice studio should provide that enviroment.

     Voice lessons should be free of judgment, criticism should be gentle and designed to foster healthy growth, and above all, a student should feel like they can be completely free. Free to let the voice be a channel for expressing their deepest emotions and facets of their personality. As a teacher, it's so rewarding to see the layers of nervousness fall away as someone finds his or her voice. You don't have to do as much emotional work with a clarinet! It's a secret dream of mine to get voice students of all ages back to a place where they can be so free that they don't think twice about running and yelping towards that neighborhood ice-cream truck in the summer. "I'd like a rocket pop, please," isn't something you need to e-mail your boss, anyway.

Natalie Megules, Voice Teacher

The Benefits of Choral Singing (By Erin Repsher)

I think we all would agree that the sound of a child’s singing voiceErin Repsher, Conductor, Hunterdon Youth Choir is one of the most beautiful and precious sounds on earth.  To hear this natural instrument in its purest state is a very touching and inspiring experience.  Reciprocally, the children who are creating these wonderful sounds are enriching their lives and receiving positive benefits to last a lifetime. 

Studies show children who sing in choral ensembles are exposed to experiences which positively influence their social, emotional and academic life.  As a music educator and choral director, I have witnessed this growth and joy year after year while working with my students.  It is truly remarkable to see (and hear) a child producing such expressive and sophisticated music with their singing voices.  As children learn and make music alongside their peers, they can enjoy the following benefits:

•   Success for all types of learners:  during a typical choral rehearsal, music is explored by utilizing multiple intelligences (i.e. visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, logical/mathematical, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, verbal/linguistic, etc.)

•   Improvement of literacy skills:  there are many strong connections between reading the words of our favorite storybooks and reading a melodic phrase on a music staff.  In addition, the natural flow of choral lyrics can greatly impact a student’s ability to become more fluid and fluent readers.  Fluency is an integral part of successful reading

•   Increased success and understanding of mathematics: music is filled with patterns, fractions, addition, subtraction, grouping, sequencing, etc.

•   Children delve into their expressive side while exploring different emotions found in their song repertoire

•   Choral music helps us learn to work cooperatively while strengthening our social skills to achieve a common goal

•   Children build confidence as they learn to take risks, improve their talents, and perform for others

•   Music has a naturally soothing and relaxing quality.  It does wonders for our mind, body and spirit! 

•   Choral singing has been shown to improve memory, practice/homework habits, responsibility and creativity

Rehearsing and performing with a choir can generate an immense sense of accomplishment.  These fun and rewarding memories will last a lifetime!  I invite you to attend a demo session of our Advanced Choir at no cost to you.  The demo takes place on December 2, 2010 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts (4 Minneakoning Rd., Flemington, NJ 08822).

Erin Repsher, Conductor, Hunterdon Youth Choir

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