From the Director

Should my child take private lessons?

Many parents are eager to give their children every advantage in their music study, often raising the question of whether private lessons are important, and if so, when. The answer is very much dependent on the child herself, according to her age, level of interest, and long-term musical goals.

In the music field, there is far more controversy around when children should take private voice lessons than there is about instrumental lessons. Most agree that instrumental lessons should begin as early as possible. Research-based evidence suggests that there is a developmental “window of opportunity,” up to about age nine, when children are mentally primed for processing and understanding music.

The main reason for the uncertainty around voice lessons for children is due to the outdated notion that extended voice use might be damaging to the developing voice. While there is always the potential for harm – in people of all ages – due to overuse or misuse of the voice, the fact is that children’s voices are resilient and well equipped to handle vigorous voice use. In fact, research finds that children’s voices (before puberty, around age 13) can handle the ‘act of singing’ in the same way that mature voices can. The complex structure of the larynx (where the vocal folds are located) is designed to accommodate excessive voice use. According to voice scientists, the vocal folds of children have a thick layer of collagen and elastin that is five times as buoyants as that of an adult. When you think about it, this makes sense given the demands on a child’s voice when crying or yelling. Most of the valid comparisons between adult and children’s voices related to singing have to do with the sound quality and power as a result of size and structural differences.

When working with developing voices, responsible educators, like Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s voice faculty and conductors, are careful to allow for reasonable periods of rest and to avoid prolonged periods of high impact over short amounts of time. In fact, all of Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s teaching faculty have studied functional voice pedagogy and are equipped to respond to students when there is cause for concern. In such cases, students are routinely evaluated by our own voice faculty, and when necessary, referred to medical specialists.

With the damage control question put to rest, we can focus on the positive benefits for private study. For children of all ages and levels of experience, a private voice lesson (assuming it is with a qualified teacher) is a chance to receive individual feedback that can either correct a technical problem or simply ensure that a child’s development stays on track. It is also an opportunity to learn solo songs that can boost a child’s enjoyment and confidence in singing and allow them the freedom to choose songs that match their individual interests. Students who study voice or instruments through Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s electives program also have the added benefit of performing for friends and family in our season recitals. For more mature students, particularly those that are interested in solo performance or auditioning for specialized music programs (middle and high school or college), private lessons are essential in selecting appropriate song literature and developing the solo voice. Vocal soloists face challenges beyond the requirements of choral singing including the need to sustain phrases (no catch-breath cover-ups), smooth out register transitions (particularly in classical singing), communicate their individual song interpretation, and produce a reasonable amount of power. Those applying to higher-level music programs will also be expected to sing with proper diction in two or more foreign languages.

At Brooklyn Youth Chorus, we take our students’ musical and vocal development seriously and handle them with care. Whether it’s just for fun, for an extra boost of confidence, or to address a lagging area of skill, we encourage all of our students — Prep age through Ensembles —  to participate in our elective program offerings of private lessons and group classes. No – it’s not too early to start! Registration for the 2nd term will be opening shortly. If you have any specific questions about what’s best for your child, please contact your child’s conductor or reach out to me directly. For those of you already enrolled in our programs, we look forward to your recital performances this month. Bravo!

Is my child musically talented?

That may not be the important question.

We all recognize that some of us seem to start out with more natural ability in music than others. But there are different opinions about whether or not these inborn aptitudes or lack of them can be overcome with time and effort. More to the point is whether or not a focus on talent has a place in the educational environment.

Perhaps when we focus on where our kids start out on the talent scale, that gets in the way of helping them meet their own individual music goals. It may also prevent them from reaping all the many personal benefits that come from disciplined music study and performance. Certainly, everyone needs practice to excel in music, and practice requires motivation. But it’s possible that we may best help our children by focusing attention on their effort and their personal investment to further their artistic development.

Without a doubt, all students who apply themselves to music study can make progress. For most young people, the greater the skill and understanding they develop in a given area, the greater their enjoyment and motivation to continue. Because of differences in musical aptitude, some students will take to instruction more easily or progress more quickly. However, that doesn’t guarantee that they will go further in the end or have greater resonance with audiences. After all, while most concert-goers appreciate and applaud those with impressive technical mastery, we are truly moved by those whose performances are heartfelt and authentically expressive.

Vocal talent is often viewed as that elusive thing that one is born with and not something learned. However, with functional voice training, like Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s Cross-Choral Training® method, researchers have proven that voices can be developed, and that technical skill and control can be achieved in each functional area. While voice training requires consistent, guided practice over an extended period time, those with the desire to improve, and a commitment to the learning process, make progress.

No doubt, technical mastery is important, but it is only part of the equation when assessing musical artistry — we also consider literacy, creativity and expressiveness. Certainly, there are those remarkable children who appear to be born for the stage, and who display effortless animation and expressiveness from an early age. However, more often than not, the ability to thoughtfully interpret music and translate that into outward expression, visible to an audience, is developed over a long period of time. In fact, a child may not realize his or her true potential to be an expressive performer until much later in life, in parallel to the development of their own self-awareness and confidence. It would be a shame to dismiss a child’s potential for musical talent before they have had the time and experience to discover who they are and how to express themselves in performance.

Children who come to chorus because they love to sing already have the motivation to engage and learn. It may be human nature to be excited by those children who demonstrate extraordinary skills at a young age, but let’s not overlook the enormous potential for artistry in all children. We best serve our children by helping them develop the skills they need to maximize their potential and by supporting them as they pursue their passions, regardless of what level they start their training or what talent they initially present. Musical artistry is discovered through experience and nurtured over time. Participation in a well-structured program like Brooklyn Youth Chorus, that combines rigor with experiential and sequential learning, can help fulfill that promise.

Managing Fall Schedule Stress – better to take a breather than a break

We know the fall semester can feel overwhelming, particularly if your child has started a new school, is preparing for test prep, school or college admissions, or has moved to a new level at Brooklyn Youth Chorus. First, remember, you are not alone, we understand the immense amount of pressure on kids to keep up at school and to deal with the admissions process while balancing extracurricular activities. And second, we are here to help!

Singing as Stress Relief
Choral singing can be a wonderful refresher for kids. The experience of breathing more deeply and listening to one’s internal body rhythms – plus the pure joy of making sound and connecting with others – is a wonderful counterpoint to the stress of academic life. In fact, research shows that positive adaptive coping strategies for stress can include engaging in music or exercise, as well as planning ahead and maintaining a balanced perspective on school and grades. Chorus should be a joy and a release.

Take A Breather
Most importantly, if your child is showing signs of stress, try to reassure them that they will be okay and remember you can use your discretionary absence points as a pressure release valve when you need it. If it’s a particularly overwhelming day or week, use an absence point to stay home and study or attend to another priority. We strongly encourage kids to take things day by day and just take a breather when and where they need it rather than dropping out of Chorus for an extended period. In our experience, once kids withdraw, it is much harder to resume the routine. You should also remember the importance of getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. Everything feels more overwhelming when you are overtired.

Please keep in touch with your program managers so they are aware of how your child is doing, and let them know when you need to use an absence to catch your breath. That’s what they are here for!  Just be mindful of the point allowance so you don’t exceed your allotment for the semester.

We are excited about the year ahead and are here to help you get through the term in the happiest and healthiest way possible.


Brooklyn Youth Chorus students learn with our trademarked Cross-Choral Training Method – What is that all about?

Brooklyn Youth Chorus offers incredible performance opportunities supported by its unique trademarked training method, Cross-Choral Training developed by our Founder, Dianne Berkun Menaker, over the Chorus’s 25-year history. Choristers engage in a developmentally appropriate course of study including both rigorous voice training and the development of music literacy skills.

Rooted in Physiology
As vocal pedagogy, C-CT is functional voice training, informed by voice science, and based on what is happening physiologically inside the body. In many voice studios, training is approached largely through imagery. Students are asked to imagine sounds as colors or textures or to send them out through various parts of their faces or bodies. This subjective approach doesn’t work for everybody, leaving many students failing to progress. Functional voice training helps students gain awareness and understanding of the physical systems that make up their singing voice – their breathing (respiration), what happens in the larynx and the vocal folds (the actual source of the tone), and how the shape of the vocal tract forms recognizable sounds, colors, and tone quality.

Vocal Qualities for Varied Vocal Styles
If you are familiar with the sound of both a classical opera singer and a Broadway or pop singer, you understand that these styles have distinctly different vocal qualities. In fact, each style requires a very different series of adjustments in the vocal instrument. Cross-Choral Training asks our singers to develop all of these qualities, establishing several default productions, both for the benefit of extending technique, and so our singers sound stylistically appropriate in each style of music. This approach develops the widest pitch range – high and low, and the broadest spectrum of tone qualities.

Cross-Choral Training is grounded in classical training, but also includes those adjustments necessary for commercial music styles. Classical singing technique is furthest away from natural speech production (vowel sound shaping, laryngeal registration) and requires enhanced acoustic amplification of sound, uniformity of vowel production, and strong development of head register (lighter mechanism or mode), which is often underdeveloped in beginning singers. While commercial singing more closely parallels natural speech, it also requires training and development for the singer to have control over variable vocal qualities, expressive nuances, and to negotiate a wider pitch range.

The Importance of Music Literacy
As a musicianship pedagogy, Cross-Choral Training places students in a language-immersive, experiential learning environment right from their start in the Preparatory division. Students learn tonal solfege (Do-Re-Mi, the ABCs of music) to reinforce pitch relationships and intervals both melodically and harmonically. They learn to read and count rhythms and to apply elements of music theory in understanding their music repertoire.

The Full Package
Cross-Choral Training is the underpinning of all of our teaching at Brooklyn Youth Chorus.  Our broad approach to vocal training is why Brooklyn Youth Chorus is hired to sing with both the New York Philharmonic and Elton John, and sounds amazing in each setting. The focus on musical literacy and musicianship is what gives our singers the ability to pick up a score and start singing, to learn music quickly and securely, and to allow the Chorus the opportunity to collaborate with major orchestras and artists.  And perhaps most of all, this pedagogy is critical for maintaining vocal health, allowing our singers to have a long and happy life of music making ahead of them.