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SEMS chorus members make their pitch
Students take part in vocal training techniques at a music teachers conference
01.29 Kellis Futch
Kellis Futch visualizes a higher pitch by acting as if he is throwing a ball to the top of a window in the classroom. - photo by Photo by Sandi Van Orden

Students in South Effingham Middle School’s chorus helped to demonstrate teaching techniques at a music teachers’ conference in Savannah last week.

The students worked with Dr. Patrick Freer from Georgia State University.

Freer worked with the boys before the afternoon before the conference.

Five of the male students were attending the Georgia Music Educators Conference.

“They’re participating in a workshop that Dr. Patrick Freer is conducting, and he needed some volunteers,” said SEMS chorus teacher Angelia Jernigan. “Some are sixth graders and some of them are eighth graders.”

Jernigan said Freer worked with the district honor choir in the fall, and she met him through that process.

“A lot of times at Georgia Music Educators Conference you have a lot of groups that come in and sing and perform so far as vocally, they’ll give a mini concert for 30 minutes or so,” Jernigan said. “Then sometimes you have teachers, professors coming in to give workshops who need students to come in and demonstrate vocal techniques, and that’s what Dr. Freer is doing here.”

Freer said he is trying to show his research in an applicable way for teachers.

“I was just listening to an interview between the superintendent of, I believe it was, Fulton County schools and a researcher of education,” Freer said. “They were arguing about what the best approach was to take.

“There’s this ‘teachers don’t always trust researchers,’ and ‘researchers don’t always do a good job of making the research applicable to teachers,’ and so I as a researcher want to make sure that everything I’m doing is grounded in real life,” Freer said. “Part of the purpose of this session is to present real-life examples of how the research can inform what we do in the classroom.”

Freer said meeting with the students would determine what would happen at the conference the following day.

“My session outline is really a collection of stuff, which works on its own, but after today I’ll play to these kids a little bit,” Freer said. “At the core I’m going to meet with five kids who I’ve never worked with before, except for one. I don’t know what they’re going to present, what their singing ability or self perception is.”

He said that is what a teacher has on the first day of school.

“If you don’t get the kids singing and active on day one you can forget it,” Freer said. “So many teachers start with rules on day one. That should be day two.”

Freer said he has worked with students prior to conferences, and met students at conferences to hold workshops but has found that by meeting the students in advance, it reduces the nervousness of the students.

Freer’s workshop is about working with middle school boys in chorus as their voices change.

He began by asking the boys what they expected the next day to be like and told them where they would be at the conference.

“This is a little different than when somebody comes to your school to work with you,” Freer said. He told the students the most important thing was for teachers to take something back to their school that they could use with their students.

He told the students he didn’t know exactly what they would be doing the next day yet.

“I’ve got lots of ideas, and some of them will appear in tomorrow’s workshop, and some of them won’t,” he said.
He asked the students to introduce themselves and say how long they have been in chorus.

Freer asked the students about their voice changes, and explained that the voice changes in five steps.

“In any group of 11, 12, 13, 14-year-old boys you could have six different voice parts, some that haven’t changed at all and then those five stages of change,” Freer told the students. “Plus, the girls’ voice goes through four stages of change. So your teacher could be dealing with 10 different voice parts.”

Freer told the students they were going to help him explain to teachers how to figure out the voices, and be able to work with all the different parts.

He then had the students do vocal exercises. Including counting backward from 20 to one, then singing “Jingle Bells,” and singing while he played the piano.

He had the students say the last thing that they ate as they tossed a ball to each other and then had them sing the word.

Freer also worked with movement as the students worked to sing pitches and having the students visualize singing higher notes.

As he worked with the students he was able to tell them what their vocal range is.