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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pauley

Working with Boys

During the Spheres of Singing conference I listened to two talks specifically about boys. One was given by Patrick Freer "Pedagogical Implications from Research with Adolescent Boys about Singing", and the other from Suzanne Chadwick, "What do we do with the Boys? Practical Strategies for Working with Adolescent Male Voices".

Over the past couple of years I have been working in youth theatre and this involves working with boys between the ages of 8 and 18. This year, which was my fourth, 24% of the group were boys, making it the largest group of boys we have had. I was thrilled by this as I really do think that boys need to see other boys singing and taking part in order for them to want to participate. I was fascinated when an 8 year-old boy told me that he knew that there were fewer boys singing and dancing, and that would make it easier for him to pass auditions and get better roles than the girls!

This year half of the boys in the 8-12 group had voices that were starting to change. Last year there was only, and alone he can end up feeling like there is something wrong with him. The other kids can laugh at the sound of a changed voice, and even the adults expressing their surprise at the change can cause issues. Having peers in the group appears to be much less stressful for the boys and I'm hopeful that all these boys will return next season.

I learnt a number of things during the talks including:

  1. Boys enjoy learning skills. There is no doubt singing is a skill and that sometimes I underplay the technical aspect of it for fear of boring the kids who just want to sing. But it seems that I can indeed work on some of the technical aspects of singing, without trying to hide them in the games and exercises I do.

  2. Cambiata choirs. I had no idea that choirs existed for boys whose voices are changing with repertoire arranged specifically for them. I'm very excited to discover more.

  3. Using an app to determine the approximate stage of vocal change. I knew about Cooksey's stages of male changing voice that uses speaking fundamental frequency. I have apps that show fundamental frequencies. I just never thought to get a boy to count backwards from 20 and use this to determine the stage. I have found the students love seeing their voice represented on an iPad. It's objective. It's not vague like saying something is good or bright. And there is no reason why I can't do this with the girls in the group as well.

I have been looking online for other resources. And I did come across a very enjoyable talk given by Patrick Freer that covers some of the material he talked about during the conference -- From Bowling Alone to Singing Together [YouTube].

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