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So You Want to Stage a Choral Pop/Rock Concert!

by Jeffrey D. Costello

Not a concert where each choir sings one or two songs to a CD accompaniment track, but a real pop/rock concert with a real pop/rock backing band. How does one go about accomplishing this? What is involved? What are the things one should do to achieve a successful performance, and what are the things one should not do?

I have been the Director of Choirs at Creekside Middle School in Zeeland, Michigan since 1996. I’ve also been a professional drummer, vocalist, and guitarist since 1985, with extensive performing experience in the pop/rock field as a member of the Michigan-based bands Paris Blue and Cos & Cos.  Paris Blue toured the Midwest from 1991 from 1995, playing venues in 14 states as a regional touring rock act, performing 300 nights per year in 200 to 1,700 seat venues. I’ve also worked as a live sound engineer for 20 years, and a recording studio owner/operator for 14 years, recording, mixing, editing, and mastering local talent, including everything from hard rock acts to church choirs.

My school choirs sing a balanced repertoire, but due to my extensive performing, arranging, and composing of Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM,) I tend to program more CCM material than most choir directors. This article will serve as a “how to” for choir directors interested in staging a full-blown live rock concert with their choirs.

 Voice Training

It all starts here. The vast majority of public school choir directors are classically trained musicians who have little experience singing, teaching, and in many cases, even listening to CCM styles of music. In order to properly train vocalists to sing CCM styles, I recommend that teachers seek additional training beyond what most colleges and universities offer. In order to truly understand a musical genre it’s vital to be immersed in it, first by listening. A choral pop/rock concert sung all in head register, with tall, dark vowels would be stylistically inappropriate. Just as singing Handel, Bach, or an art song in a belt sound with bright, spread vowels would be equally as inappropriate. I train my choirs and private students to sing in, and respect, all vocal styles. The tool I use to achieve this is Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Ms. LoVetri’s method of voice teaching is both intuitive and science-based, training the ear, the body, and the mind to change styles seamlessly as deemed by the repertoire. It is registration-based training, meaning the vocal muscles of head voice and chest voice are coordinated and strengthened in a systematic fashion with specific vowels, tonal patterns, and dynamics.

One way I apply The LoVetri method to my work is in the process of teaching middle school choristers who are just learning to sing in harmony. If, for example, my altos are accidentally singing the soprano part, I ask them to check which vocal register they are using. If the music calls for the altos to sing around middle C, and they are singing in head register rather than chest register, chances are good they are not singing their part, but are singing the head-register dominant soprano part by mistake. In that moment I remind the altos “It’s a register thing!” and, as they develop, they learn to match the feeling of the registration to find the correct pitches in the lower range.

Another benefit of Somatic Voicework™ is that it teaches singers to mix, or sing in a

blend of chest and head registers. Singing in a mix is crucial for CCM vocalists, both male and female. Most CCM singing between E4 and B4 uses some form of mix. An exception to this is the belt sound, which refers to carrying chest register above E4. Somatic Voicework™ is also a great tool for teaching a healthy belt. Establishing in all singers’ minds that registration is a vocal fold event, and that vowels occur by shaping the pharynx and articulators differently is important to understand. From there we can move toward exercises that work all elements. Some exercises address bright or dark vowels, others address registration or articulation, and many address all components. The teacher must be able to discern a vowel change from a registration change in order to properly demonstrate and teach it.

I focus on bright vowels for CCM material and dark vowels for classical material before addressing registration at all. A typical warm-up for the choir would have them singing a five-tone scale (ascending and descending) on “ah” as in “father” for the bright sounds. I then have them switch to “aw” for the dark sounds. We go back and forth every other half-step. These types of exercises keep the vocal instrument moving and flexible, which is a core principal of Somatic VoiceWork™.

In order for a singing voice to be balanced and healthy, a singer must have a strong head register and a strong chest register. My choirs sing a great deal of CCM literature, so they tend to use a bit more chest register than a typical middle school choir. I teach them to stay on the “oh” vowel above the primary passaggio and not let their vowel change to “ah.”  I encourage them to lighten their registration gradually from chest, into more of a chesty-mix, into a heady-mix, and ultimately into head register.

Registration also plays a part in choral blend. When voices are in a similar pitch range, they need to be singing in the same registration. Particularly in CCM singing, females and tenors need to utilize chest register below E4 (primary passaggio) and as high as G4, depending on the dynamic level. Between E4-G4 and B4 some form of mix should be used. Above B4 the instrument will automatically go toward head register unless we override the system. Singing louder is one way to take a chestier sound higher than it would normally go in a softer passage.

Acoustics of the Performance Space

If the choral performances you normally direct are with piano accompaniment, chamber instruments, or are sung a cappella, you may not have considered the acoustics of the space, because in those situations it is most beneficial to perform in an acoustically live space. Anyone who has attended a performance in a church where CCM (with drums and electric guitars) is performed has likely noticed that those spaces are acoustically different from older churches and auditoriums that were acoustically designed for pipe organs, chamber instruments, and choirs. When presenting a CCM performance, in order to ensure a successful aural experience for the performances and audience, the performance space must be as acoustically dead as possible. This means if your school’s auditorium has a removable acoustic shell of any type, insist that it not be used for this performance. Instead, utilize curtains (the thicker, the better) to surround the stage. Acoustic “clouds” should also be placed in the non-reflective position. If acoustic enhancing surfaces are used, and the resulting acoustic space is too live, then drums, cymbals, and guitar amplifiers will become much to loud for the performers and the audience.

 The Sound System and Engineer

In order to stage a successful choral pop/rock concert, the venue must have a high-quality, powerful sound system and qualified sound engineer. A concert like this requires much more of the sound engineer than simply turning up the solo mics, and because a Music Education degree doesn’t typically include any instruction pertaining to sound systems, microphones, or recording equipment (an injustice, in my opinion), you may want to hire a professional sound engineer if your school district does not employ one. The sound engineer will be able to determine whether or not additional equipment is needed to successfully stage the event. In my experience, most school auditoriums do not have adequate sound equipment to stage a full rock concert. If this is the case, renting of additional equipment may be necessary. In order to have it sound like a real pop/rock concert, we want all the sound the audience hears to be coming from the sound system. This is not your father’s choir concert! Everything will be miced. (The tech/production world has adopted the words “mic” and “miced” as official, correctly spelled, terms.) In other words, the miced sound of your choirs should overpower the acoustic sound that the audience typically hears. This is important because the volume of the backing band will otherwise drown out your choirs.

 The Band and Their Equipment

The professionalism of the band you hire is important, including the quality of their instruments and equipment. This is not the time to let the local high school garage band perform with your choir. If you want a professional sound, hire professional musicians who use top-quality instruments and equipment. If you don’t know where to find these musicians, speak to folks at the local mega churches who perform CCM music, and reach out to their musicians. Many of these musicians play professionally in other areas and are often consummate pop/rock performers. These musicians will obviously require payment. From my experience, school choir concerts generally do not charge for attendance, but that needs to change for an event of this magnitude. I charged $3 per person for my recent Rock of Ages concert in a 960-seat venue, and easily raised enough to pay the musicians what they deserved, as well as purchase/rent all the needed equipment.

The use of a drum shield (an acrylic or plexiglass shield surrounding the drums to reduce stage volume) is also advised. For an event like this, the sound engineer will want to mic all the drums, believe it or not. This is the only way to get that punchy feel through the sound system that we’ve all experienced at pop/rock concerts. You also want to have the sound engineer closely monitor the volume level of the instrumentalists. Generally speaking, the louder the musicians play, the more difficult (even with choir mics) it will be to get the choirs out front in the mix. If you can find instrumentalists who use computerized modeling amps and ear monitors (a topic worthy of a complete and separate article), instead of traditional amplifiers and wedges, volumes will be much easier to manage.


In every performance with drums and amplified guitars, the vocalists will need monitors to hear themselves, as well as to hear the accompaniment clearly. Your sound engineer should be able to assist with where to place the monitors (also known as wedges, due to their shape,) but they should be on the floor in front of the choir risers, and pointed at the singers. Solo mics should be fed to these monitors so the soloists can hear themselves. Choir mics should not be fed to the monitors because this will cause the unpleasant squealing sound we’ve all experienced. Depending upon the physical location of the band you may also need to place monitors near the instrumentalists so they can effectively monitor the singing, and make musical adjustments as needed, especially if the band is located away from the stage. (See next paragraph.)

 Location of the Band

Where should you put the band? You could employ the traditional procedure of putting them on the stage, in front of the choir risers, but instrumental volume and balance with voices likely will become an issue with this setup. If an orchestra pit is available, this is a viable, but less exciting, option. You could have them set up in the wings, but that’s also not very visually appealing. For my Rock of Ages concert I wanted the audience to see the band, but I didn’t want the band to visually overshadow the choir, so I made the decision to purchase 40” legs for our Wenger portable staging units, and I placed the band behind the choir risers (see video link.) With the band behind the choir, it provided an exciting concert-like appearance, yet allowed the singers to still be the main focal point of the visual experience. Another viable option, and one I’m planning to use this year, is to put the band on one of the “tech decks” (an elevated area in front of the proscenium.) If your auditorium was built sometime over the last 20 years, you may have this as an option. With this setup, the drums and amplifiers are far enough away from the choirs that instrument “bleed” into the choir mics should not be an issue.

 Light and Effects

In order to create the atmosphere of an authentic pop/rock concert, you will want to give consideration to lighting and special effects like fog. If your auditorium doesn’t have much in lighting, you may wish to rent additional lighting equipment, and consider hiring a lighting designer. Fog machines (hazers), moving lights, strobes, etc., greatly enhance the appearance of a pop/rock show. These effects can be rented if they are not available in your auditorium.


Staging a successful choir pop/rock concert is no easy feat, but with the right instrumentalists and equipment, it is an achievable goal that will provide your singers with a real life CCM performing experience. This type of experience is similar to what some students will be involved in after graduation in places of worship and community events. There is also the viable option of utilizing pre-recorded CD accompaniment tracks for an authentic pop/rock sound. My band accompanied the choirs on ¾ of the songs performed on our Rock of Ages concert. The other songs utilized CD accompaniment tracks.

Choir directors seeking to learn more about teaching and singing in CCM vocal styles should consider attending The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ at Baldwin Wallace College in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


Youtube link to video of my concert:

Link to the local news spot:

Jeff Costello is available for consulting in all areas pertaining to live sound for choirs at


 Jeff Costello has been the choir director for Creekside Middle School in Zeeland, Michigan since 1996. He began his musical career as a professional drummer and vocalist for the band “Infynity” in 1985 and continues to perform (on drums, guitar, keyboards, and vocals) to this day. His current band, “Paris Blue” enjoyed a run as one of the top Michigan regional touring bands on the “A Circuit” From 1991 to 1995 when the band retired from full-time performing.

Jeff is a State Honors Choir Director Nominee, was director of choirs at Second Reformed Church (almost entirely classical choral literature) in Zeeland, Michigan from 2000 to 2010 and also maintains a busy private voice studio.



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Guest Interview by Billy Gollner

How did you get started in music?

I’ve been singing since I was a little kid, I was attracted to music; my mom signed me up for piano and guitar lessons. Many years later, I began singing in choirs, when I was 19 I began singing lessons with a classical teacher.

As a Brazilian singer, the most important element for learning and growth was singing with friends, learning and teaching informally from one another.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I studied Psychology. My family didn’t support the idea of going to Music School. My mother played piano and guitar, we listened to lots of music at home but music was considered something fun that people did at home; it wasn’t really considered a profession.

In my third year of studying psychology, I was certain that I did not want to work in the field. However, I finished the degree and have never worked a day in psychology.

How did you get your professional start in music?

I had my first show when I was 19, it was a complete failure for everyone in the band. In fact, we broke up and didn’t speak for a whole year. This was traumatic. You see, with popular music education at the time, you really had to guess, popular singers didn’t have teachers or concrete ways to learn. It was trial and error. But I think music chooses you and I couldn’t quit.

In 1979, after my first show, I began composing songs and singing in a few groups but it was very indie and not commercially relevant. The popular music market was very polarized, you had the millionaires and then everyone else, it was very hard to make a living just singing, so I turned to teaching to make a living in music.

To make a living just singing, this is still hard, perhaps it’s even more difficult today. I turned to teaching, other friends turned to backing vocals, jingles, and some were crooners in big bands. Others became studio managers or audio engineers; some were hired as musicians or background singers for big stars. While others developed parallel careers as composers to other singers, arrangers, or choir maestros.

Many of us turned to something outside music to make a living: I worked for 10 years as a translator after my daughter was born.  Even big names in Brazilian music did this, like Vinicius de Moraes (diplomat), Aldir Blanc (psychiatrist), Guinga (dentist), Jose Miguel Wisnick (teacher in the university) and others.

How did you start your professional life as a teacher? What were the challenges?

I had been taking voice lessons for four years with a Classical teacher and I was singing in a choir. I began teaching with the singers in the choir. To my surprise, I started to notice what the singers were doing, I watched singers have trouble and I realized that I knew what was happing, sort of. So, I started helping people, I began giving lessons for my own improvement (as a teacher), so I was not charging for these beginning lessons.

At that time, there weren’t popular singers giving lessons in Brazil, everyone studied with Classical teachers. While this training was precious, it was incomplete; the singers didn’t know anything about microphones, female singers were trained mostly in head voice, singers were not being trained in a way that met the demands of the marketplace. Contraltos and male voices had more to gain from traditional classical approaches while Sopranos, like myself, were heavily trained in head voice, and then trying to sing in chest. This was the main issue, here and all over the world!

So I began developing a way to train singers who knew they wanted to sing popular music. My generation was full of pioneers in the sense that we were giving lessons to popular singers.

There wasn’t a formal pedagogy; we were learning with the students, we didn’t want to cheat people.

So, we began a study group in 1991, this was a turning point, the group was called Grupo De Estudos Da Voz (GEV). One of my colleagues from GEV, Felipe Abreu, perhaps the most renowned voice teacher in the popular field in Brazil, is absolutely brilliant and was the first person to really help me begin to understand the issue of registration.

The group started with 20 people, at first, most of us were singers, voice teachers, choral directors and SLPs. We started mentoring one another in how to teach lessons in a popular context; we would share the challenges we were encountering, discussing difficulties our students were encountering, we’d collectively work to address the problems.

We hired SLPs and Laryngologists to come in and lecture our group; we also hired self-taught, excellent singers to come in and tell us how they learnt, how they studied. We began to create a pedagogy that was useful to teachers and singers, and that was fully adapted to Brazilian music.

Most of the teachers in the group had a classical background, we were not denying what we had learnt from our classical teachers, we were adapting to the demands of popular music.

The group still exists today and has played a huge role in the growth and development of several generations of singers, especially in São Paolo.

When did you meet Jeanie LoVetri? What did her work do for you?

I first met Jeanie in 2005; Jeanie had come to São Paolo with an SLP named Mara Behlau. Mara was the first person in Brazil who brought Jeanie to talk about Somatic Voicework™. We came in trusting Mara’s name at first. In 2005, we had already had lots of foreign famous teachers come to Brazil but none of us had ever come across Jeanie’s work. The course was full and many of us were blown away by Jeanie’s work. This was the first seed; since then, many Brazilian singers and voice teachers have completed the Somatic Voicework™ training, and Jeanie’s name is really well known and respected among the voice teaching community here.

When Jeanie first presented, I immediately identified with so many things being said, things I was saying to my students but I’d never heard from other people; at the same moment, I knew that Jeanie knew exponentially more about the subject than I did, I realized that she was the teacher of my dreams. I knew she was someone who I wanted to know, I needed to get close to Jeanie.

I was impressed with how Jeanie talked about Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM), I was enamored with how she interacted with singers, I was so impressed with the emphasis on registers in Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method.

Then after a series of coincidences, one of my students was looking to travel to the United States or Europe to study CCM Voice. Of course, I immediately recommended Jeanie; the student had received the same recommendation from another voice teachers in São Paolo who was at the same workshop when Jeanie first came to Brazil, it really left a huge impact.

Upon my students return, he told me about The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework and I went in 2012. Following my completion of the Three Levels of Somatic Voicework™, I have had the pleasure of studying privately in NYC with Jeanie and I have continued my studies with Jeanie via Skype.

How has Jeanie’s work influenced you as a teacher?

Just before I met Jeanie, there was a boom in Musical Theatre in Brazil. There have always been singers using chest dominant singing styles in Brazil; however, this marked the first time that there were many teachers who started trying to teach CCM Styles with a huge emphasis on belting.

I began looking into these teachers, and I took private lessons with some of the most renowned teachers in the area but I would many of the lessons feeling vocally tired. The teachers were just forcing chest voice up, and I often felt exhausted.

Working with Jeanie was the first time I was able to manage singing in the style differently. Jeanie told me in our first lesson about herself, “I’m not a belter but I can belt,” and I identified with that. Of course I am not a belter, and I don’t think belting is something that should be an objective or a target but her work was helping me sing how I’ve always wanted to. In this lesson, it was the first time I was able to sing high notes comfortably in a chest dominant voice.

The first time I accessed mixed voice with Jeanie, I asked her, “am I singing in chest or head? It feels like head but it sounds like chest.” This was very interesting.

In addition, I have been studying the science of the singing voice for a long time but it wasn’t until singing with Jeanie that I could feel everything working in an integrated way. It was the first time I could feel everything making sense together, a bridge between vocal function and emotions; when everything works together, this helps you to be expressive with your singing, it allows you to find the art.

Tell me about your classical training.

I had many excellent teachers in classical music that helped take my voice to the next level. My teachers were excellent, I discovered things in my voice that were truly magical and while I was grateful for the training, I could not use the training in Popular styles. I was using a completely different part of my voice and I couldn’t manage the requirements for navigating CCM Singing Styles.

How has Jeanie’s work influenced you as a teacher?

I identified with the way Jeanie related to the singers, many of the things Jeanie had been talking about I was already starting to figure out on my own but it would’ve taken me another twenty-years, maybe a lifetime to establish and nail everything down.

Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method made me laugh, I felt assured and safe as a teacher. I learned to laugh with my students and this was freedom; when you are trying to do something that you are not skilled at, it is normal to make mistakes, as a teacher knowing what was happening physiologically that caused the mistake, Somatic Voicework™ helped give me a framework to address the problem. I learnt the mistake is precious because it tells me everything I need to know to address the problem.

Tell us about starting your own teaching business.  What were your goals, challenges and successes?

When I first started out as a teacher, my main goal was to be a professional singer, not to be a teacher. I didn’t have a decision or a want to be a professional teacher, I didn’t make that decision, and it just happened, life happened.

From the onset, I wanted to be the teacher that I needed when I was a beginner. I wanted to offer students what they needed, to meet their goals.

I asked students what they wanted, even the most absolute beginners, many times even the absolute beginners knew what it was they wanted to improve about their voice. I didn’t want to be a teacher that told people what they needed; I wanted to be of service to students to help them reach their goals.

Another major challenge I found with my own voice training was that my teachers were not concerned with preparing me for what happens in the real world of how to be successful in the music marketplace, the teachers treated that as something the student needed to figure out. I do not think the two can be separated, it is our job as teachers to help our students navigate the music business.

I encourage all my students to get out there and perform, to organize their own performance opportunities; if you are a singer who does not sing in the world, it will be hard for you to improve, there are things you learn in performance that you can never learn in a classroom.

How has Jeanie’s work inspired you?

Jeanie is very respectful with students; I’ve seen Jeanie work with people from all walks of life. Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method empowers people, Jeanie is not trying to prove how much she knows, she is just empowering people with information and meeting the students where they are.

Tell me what continues to draw you to Somatic Voicework™

Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method transformed me, it transformed my lessons. I had been teaching for at least 20 years before being introduced to Jeanie’s work. Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri method respects us as teachers, it empowers us to use the information to work with students, informed by our own experiences. When I am working with a student, I consider the student to be the master, I view myself as the conduit for what the student needs.

I appreciate that Somatic Voicework™ actively encourages referring students out when they need to work with other voice professionals, be that an ENT, Laryngologist, SLP, or other Voice Teacher.

 About Suely Mesquita.

Singer, songwriter, and singing teacher, Suely Mesquita released the albums Microswing (2008) and Sexo Puro (Pure Sex, 2002), reviewed in English by Daniella Thompson (Brazzil) and Kees Schoof (Música Brasileira). With Eugenio Dale, released the site and album Dio & Baco (2015). In 2014 was interviewed in the prestigious TV show Zoombido, by Paulinho Moska. Her songs were recorded by some of her renowed partners, as Mário Sève, Moska, Fernanda Abreu, Pedro Luís e a Parede, Kátia B., George Israel, Celso Fonseca, Leoni, Luís Capucho and also by brazilian singers as Ney Matogrosso, Ceumar, Daúde, 14Bis and others. In 2011, the artist made shows and gave lectures as part of the summer programs at the universities UMass Dartmouth and Georgetown. The book Sexo Puro: A Life in Brazilian Song (2010), by Bob Gaulke, reviewed in English by Kees Schoof and by Daniella Thompson, presents Suely’s songs to an English speaking public. Her songs were studied also in a course at UMass Dartmouth (2011).

As a teacher, Suely has given private lessons since 1984. She created, coordinated and taught in the creative laboratory DESCONTROLE NÃO É CAOS (2013 e 2014), in Rio de Janeiro. She also created and teaches, in many cities in Brazil, other courses about the popular singer training, like Microfone Relâmpago. As vocal producer, she signs albums of important Brazilian artists, such as Pedro Luís e a Parede, Farofa Carioca, Gabriel Moura, Rogê, George Israel etc. She is co-founder of GEV* – Grupo de Estudos da Voz do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Voice Study Group), created in 1991 to adapt the acknowledgment of classical voice training and the scientific approach of vocal physiology to the popular singer training and to study many authors and teachers renowned in Brazil and abroad. In 2000, she created the first big discussion list on singing in Brazil, preparacaovocal.

Please check out more from Suely Mesquita at:

Facebook (Teaching Page):

Facebook (Perfomance Page):
Duo Projects Website (Dio & Baco):

Suely’s Book ‘Sexo Puro: A Life In Brazilian Song’:

Dio&Baco’s Music Video:

Dio&Baco Live Performance:

Videos About Suely’s Group Courses:

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Guest Interview by Billy Gollner

How did you get started in music & singing?

I started as a high school music teacher, I did that for many years, and I was a Jazz piano player. I quickly realized the potential of singing as a way of effecting positive change in music education; I realized that the best tool I had was my voice and the students’ voices and I needed to get them singing but I knew I needed to become more confident in singing myself.

I studied some methods around music education and singing, most notably were Kodaly & Orff. Eventually, I became increasingly interested in choral work and made the transition from classroom music teacher to being a studio voice teacher.

Where did you go to college and what did you study? 

I completely a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Piano (University of Melbourne), then I completed a Masters of Music Education (Monash University), a Post-Graduate Degree in Choral Conducting (University of Queensland), and finally completed my PhD in Vocal Pedagogy (Sydney Conservatory of Music).

I chose the Sydney Conservatory of Music to complete my PhD in Vocal Pedagogy because at the time it was the most regarded institute in Australia, they had a whole department and team dedicated to vocal studies.

How did you get your professional start in music? 

I was torn between the idea of being a Jazz performer and being a teacher; I think it’s a huge challenge because both of those areas require a lot of attention, dedication and learning, it’s not impossible but it is difficult to be great in both areas, teaching and performing. I felt the call to teaching and that’s how I started my career, I started teaching in high schools and teaching private piano students.

 What were the challenges?

Pedagogy was a huge challenge. I realized that even though I’d spent 4 years completing a Bachelor’s of Music, I didn’t have a strong handle of how to advance a student; I didn’t know how to take them from where they were and bring them forward. I realized that university hadn’t equipped me to be effective, and I recognized that the teachers who were most effective had committed to learning a great deal more beyond their University training.

It was hard to excite and enthuse kids in music. It’s challenging in a high school music setting because people don’t necessarily share your passion. My first two teaching jobs were exceptionally challenging because I was the only music teacher in the school, so I had to come up with my own curriculum and had to look elsewhere for professional support.

What was the biggest turning point in your career?

There were several turning points in my career. The discovery of the Kodaly concept was really pivotal because it helped me understand that everything I need to teach about music, I can teach through singing, and through singing I can bring people close to experiencing music and nurturing a love of music; I realized I could achieve excellent outcomes in terms of engagement and musicianship.

Another turning point for me was discovering how important it was to get out into the community and share music, the simplest and most effective way to share a love of music is through singing in community choirs. I realized that in a school setting or a private studio setting, you can have a small effect on a few students but if you get out in a community, you can have a larger influence on more people. I learnt how important a good community choir could be at increasing the quality of people’s lives.

Tell me about your voice training, and some of the challenges you faced.

I had many unsuccessful attempts to learn to sing myself despite studying music my entire life, I really sounded terrible when I sang. I had been to many different voice teachers and the experiences continued to be unsuccessful. I had the passion to sing but not really the ability or confidence to use my voice. When I heard recordings of my voice, I would always be disappointed. So, I started discovering teachers in the USA who were highly qualified and able to give me concrete answers about my voice; I did some training with Richard Miller, and Scott McCoy. Then I discovered Seth Riggs, his approach was functional and he understood what my voice did and he told me, the reason I was struggling was because I was a tenor and I was not able to get through my passaggio but that didn’t make me a bass. Seth Riggs had a way of developing my chest voice and head voice, and then coordinating the two, that really set me up to understand Jeanie’s work, so when I came across Jeanie’s work, I had a basis for understanding registration-based voice training and I had a capacity to get more from Jeanie quickly.

What drew you to singing and music?

It’s quite curious how I got into music; even through high school I had a poor music education. I sometimes ponder this idea, how does someone get into music so strongly when they’ve had such a bad experience of music and music education. I think that was part of the motivating factor because I wanted to change things for the better; I wanted to ensure that people after me had a better experience of music education.

An idea came very strongly to me throughout my career, the idea that music can be taught; it’s not just about talent. You can break down the elements of music systematically and teach them; anyone can get better, music is for everyone. That’s a concept that really resonated with me when I met Jeanie, the idea that we are taking the mysticism out of singing. We aren’t saying that singing is a rare or God-given gift that only certain individuals can possess. With Somatic Voicework™, Jeanie was saying, singing is these functional elements that can be broken down and taught. Through this, anyone is capable of learning to sing or improving their singing if they’re willing and dedicated.

When did you meet Jeanie LoVetri?

I was recommended to Jeanie’s work by a colleague in Melbourne, I was researching and looking for answers. By this stage, I was already a PhD student, I was researching many methods to teaching singing, I studied Speech Level Singing with Seth Riggs; I studied traditional classical approaches, like Bel Canto, with Richard Miller; and I studied the Estill System; I looked at CVT with Catherine Sadolin; I was on a search, looking for answers, and I was trying to understand from as many perspectives as I could what the different approaches were to teaching singing.

In 2010, I went to The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™; I did all three levels of training and found a wonderful community of singing teachers who were all on the same journey as me, wanting to be effective and able to help their students in concrete ways. From then on, I’ve been involved in the Somatic Voicework™ community. Last year, I returned at repeated all three levels of Somatic Voicework™ training at The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™.

In between those times, I regularly visit NYC and train with Jeanie one-on-one and always come armed with lots of questions.

What has Somatic Voicework™ done for you as a both a singer and as a teacher?

Jeanie’s work has given me a way to access and isolate registration: chest voice, head voice, mix, vowels qualities: bright vowels and dark vowels, and given me a way to identify the sounds that I hear.

Music appreciation is about being able to listen to music and understand what is happening in the music. Somatic Voicework™ is like Voice Appreciation, in the sense, you can listen to voice with an analytical ear and understand what is going on physiologically.

Students regularly bring in songs that I’ve never heard, Somatic Voicework™ has given me a way to systematically classify what I’m hearing and be able to reproduce the sounds in my voice and to help singers recreat those sounds in their voice.

Respect is an important piece of Jeanie’s work; watching Jeanie work with singers, there’s an underlying value of respect and regard for the singers. Jeanie’s notion that every student is always trying their best has really rubbed off on me, I am more encouraging, patient and understanding now. The value of respect and many of the values behind Jeanie’s teaching really resonate with me.

Tell us about starting your own teaching business.  What were your goals, challenges and successes?

I think one of my initial goals was not to be dependent on institutions; I was looking for a way to reach more people through singing than would be afforded through schools. I was finding that I was more successful at teaching a specific demographic, comparatively, in a school, you teach what you’re given, I wanted to spend more time teaching what I was good at.

I have been successful at working with adolescent boys. Many people find adolescent boys difficult to teach, I find them easy to teach and find them easy to motivate, it is rewarding to teach this group. I’ve also been successful in mentoring voice teachers in helping them develop strategies in working with voices.

Tell me about using Somatic Voicework™ in a group or choral context

I find that a lot of people working with choirs and community singing groups have a lot of passion and believe in the importance of singing but they don’t have the tools to understand the voice and do not have the tools to positively bring voices forward.

When you are working with people in the community, you’re often working with people who are not very confident with singing, or they have a desire to move forward with their singing but they don’t really know how to do it. I think all choral conductors and community song-leaders need the kind of understanding of the voice that Somatic Voicework™ offers.

Somatic Voicework™ has given me the ability to assess the sound of the choir and given me tangible ways to help the singers improve.

For example, I always felt that the alto section in my choirs were never singing strong enough, it didn’t have the power that I’d heard in other choirs before, Somatic Voicework™ gave me the tools to understand that my altos weren’t sounding great because they weren’t accessing their chest voice, so I knew what kind of exercises were needed to address the topic.

My choir currently has 130 voices, with 70 people on the waitlist, part of the success of the choir has been from my ability to effect positive changes on people’s voices by giving tangible things to work on.

It’s taken a lot of trial and error to realize that you aren’t working with individual students, so I had to strike the balance to find exercises that will benefit the most of the singers, most of the time and then hope that everyone gets carried along over the long haul with what you’re doing. I make the choir gathering an exploration of voices, and those choir members who want to learn more can book a private lesson to explore in more detail.

Anything else.

I am very excited to see where the future of Somatic Voicework™ is headed. I think the training and maintaining of teacher’s certification is something we should look into as an organization.

I think the idea of teacher mentorship moving forward with Somatic Voicework could be fantastic.

 About Dr. Darren Wicks

 Dr. Darren Wicks is a vocalist, jazz pianist and choral conductor with a passion for working with singers and teachers.  His career spans over 20 years and includes: work as a high school music teacher; work with community music groups; studio teaching; school and community choirs; musical theatre and teacher education. With an impressive academic background, Darren holds qualifications in jazz, choral conducing, aural training, a Master of Music Education degree and a PhD in voice pedagogy. Darren has studied numerous approaches to singing, including: Institute for Vocal Advancement, Speech Level Singing, Somatic Voicework ™, Estil Voice Training, Voice Science and many approaches to music education, including the Orff and Kodaly concepts. Over several visits to the USA, Darren has studied with jazz, RnB, and gospel artists in Harlem, Brooklyn, Nashville, New Orleans and Los Angeles developing his understanding of how to translate African-American singing styles to Australian culture. He currently runs a busy private studio, directs the 110-voice Melbourne Singers of Gospel, is active in numerous professional associations, widely-published and regularly presents at teacher conferences.


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Somatic Voicework™: The Lovetri Method and Conducting Children’s Choirs

by Delia Zielinski

After years as a chorister, then as a voice teacher, my skills recently came together when I became a children’s chorus director. As a newly trained Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method teacher, I have been sharpening my ears with private students, but I never dreamed I’d be using these techniques in a choral rehearsal.  My new understanding of registers and age-appropriate vocal work enables my direction in rehearsals to be clear, constructive and fun! Thanks to my SVW tools, I have found that directing a chorus rehearsal and teaching a private voice lesson have a lot in common: A teacher’s thorough understanding of vocal function can lead singers through constructive warm-ups and exercises which then lead to healthy, happy singing.

For this group of second and third graders, I start with warm-ups, and we work on finding, developing and strengthening the vocal registers. Starting with the head register, I have them start with light “loos” or “oohs” and then move into different vowels.

Next, I work on establishing a mix of chest and head in mid-range, using, for instance, a “nya – nya” sound on a 5-note scale. (This is what I call a “bratty kid” sound.) It is a nasal sound that helps strengthen vocal fold closure, which, in turns, makes it easier for “mix” to emerge over time.

Moving to the chest register, we will make Santa Claus “ho-ho” sounds on low scales. They also enjoy “Mama made me mash my M & M’s” on a 5-note scale. This particular exercise can be adjusted for speed and volume, not to mention different quality of sounds, both low and high. The children enjoy singing this exercise as different “characters.”

I have recently discovered a very fun warm-up that I call the “Wizard of Oz,” and I think it works well with SVW principles. Starting with a low, open quality (like the Santa “ho-ho’s”) say the Cowardly Lion’s line at a low pitch (below middle C, medium loud volume): “Put ’em up! Put ’em up!” Then, with chest voice (around middle C, still medium loud volume): “I am Oz, the great and terrible!” Then, at a slightly higher pitch, perhaps around G4, and slightly loud volume, The Wicked Witch’s nasal: “I’ll get you my pretty!!”  Then in head voice, in a high pitch, not too loud, Dorothy’s line: “There’s no place like home!” Finally, repeat all from Dorothy back down to the lion. Character gestures to go with each line are essential, of course. It’s a spoken warm up, but it introduces and works the registers. Because the kids enjoy this one so much, I now invite one child each week to “lead” the exercise. We generally do this after the singing warm-up since they get so excited about it.

These simple and fun exercises function both as vocal warm-ups and ways to develop the children’s voices. Kids this age are beginning to experience the different parts of their voices and all of the colors and textures their voices can create. They learn to understand the concepts of head voice and chest voice, but it is a good idea to check in with them and ask, “were you singing in head voice or chest voice?”

Rehearsals with this group run an hour and 15 minutes, but due to the amount of music we have to work on, I don’t have trouble filling the time. I do have to be sensitive to when they get squirmy or tired.  I can work with them intensely for about 25, maybe 30 minutes, but then they need a break. Movement and play for students, especially younger ones, are also part of SVW. It can be beneficial to allow a young singer to burn off excess energy if one is becoming antsy or excited. Even for an older student, a bit of movement can clear the brain and refresh.

When they return from running and playing around, they need to settle down, so at that time I find it useful to work on breathing, as this is a “grounding into the body” exercise. We may start with a “4-square breath,” which is:

Breathe in to the count of 4,
Hold count-of-4,
Breathe out count-of-4,
Hold count-of-4.

It only takes two or three of these breathing repetitions to produce significant relaxation and a new focus. Then we might do some soft sighs or “ooh-ing” like the winter wind. Not loud, of course. Then, back to music work.

During the actual singing portion of our rehearsal, I rely on my SVW knowledge to keep the children in good singing form. For starters, to teach them a piece of music, I usually sing it myself phrase by phrase and have them repeat. I make sure — in true SVW form — to sing the correct register and style I want to hear back from them. Then, when they sing, I listen. Do I hear anyone pushing when they sing? Am I hearing too much chest from one of the kids, while the others are in head? Is anyone straining on the very high notes? Are they singing together as a good choir, listening to one another and blending their voices together, breathing together, coming in and cutting off together? These kids sing primarily in head register when singing sacred music, so volume for its own sake is not a requisite, but as long as they are singing healthily and freely, they can be heard.

Most of the children love singing solos. A fun tip I have learned in rehearsal is to ask children randomly to sing a phrase as a solo. They are always very enthusiastic about doing so, and singing a phrase solo helps a child to learn it better. I also believe it builds confidence. (In addition, it allows me to sneakily listen to individual voices, to “check in” with a child. I do not use the opportunity, though, to comment on vocal technique; I only correct notes and rhythm.)

I find it very fun and rewarding to work with a group of young singers in a choir. I’m so pleased I can take a page out of my Somatic Voicework™ handbooks and apply it to a group of young children. The techniques work just like in a private lesson; the only difference is the group dynamic. I am proud to serve the greater purpose of giving young singers the invaluable foundation of worship through music.

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