Mentoring is one of the major areas of focus for Cantiamo, beginning with the Training Choir. The more-experienced girls of the main choir are invited to be mentors to the younger, less-experienced singers of the Cantiamo Training Choir (TC). These mentors attend the TC rehearsal each week and are assigned a seat next to a chorister who is in need of individual guidance.
Before the first rehearsal, mentors are given a brief overview of their role. As the year goes on, I direct the mentors as needed. Mentors support the TC choristers by listening to them sing and determining what the issues are and how best to address them. Mentors observe posture and gently remind the younger choristers how to sit or stand. Mentors also create a comfort level for the new singers by building relationships. As you can see, the mentors do much more than “just sing along with the TC.”
“Creating an environment of collaboration and mutual support can only enhance the beauty of the music and the people in our choirs.”
– Jackie Hawley
Usually, the TC choristers need help to organize their music and follow their scores. Many of the new TC choristers have never seen a choral score and it is part of their training to develop musical literacy. Mentors guide the choristers and help them to focus attention on the score rather than just listening to learn the pieces by rote. Mentors also demonstrate proper posture, how to follow the conductor, and healthy vocal technique. Because the mentors are older, more experienced singers with a more developed instrument (voice), they must take care not to vocally overpower the TC choristers. The mentor voices are a guide and are meant to be heard by the TC choristers as examples of healthy, properly-produced tone that should be imitated. The TC choristers tend to sing out more confidently when they hear a confident voice beside them. Having the mentors’ support creates a safety zone for the new singers. It is especially helpful to have mentors next to those choristers who have difficulty matching pitch. The mentor can sing close to the ear of the chorister and can also use hand gestures to help indicate that their voice needs to move to a different place to match with the other choristers. The TC rehearsal is only 45 minutes per week so it is valuable to have mentors help these new choristers within the context of rehearsal, so that the rest of the group can keep working on other skills.
Mentors assist by demonstrating repertoire. Sometimes they are asked to sing in harmony with TC thus allowing the young choristers to experience the sound of a second or third part. And, mentors are used for leading sections in rounds, which helps develop the aural skills of the TC members more quickly.
In performance, the mentors sometimes, but not always, sing with the TC. This depends on repertoire, the age mix of the TC, the acoustic of the venue, and the purpose of the performance. Mentors help line up and focus the TC and lead them on and off stage. I like to use mentors along with parent volunteers, because the mentors have a relationship with the TC choristers, are familiar with performance skills, and can demonstrate this to the TC with calm confidence and poise.
In a season where there are some very experienced mentors, I will invite mentors to be an apprentice conductor or accompanist. The apprentice conductors are responsible for studying the score, creating a rehearsal plan and teaching the piece completely on their own from start to performance. The apprentices receive written feedback from me and our accompanist so that they can reflect on their experience and incorporate constructive advice into their next rehearsal. This demonstrates to the TC that the mentors are also learning and willing to place themselves in a challenging position in order to develop their own skills.
“It is empowering to realize one’s wealth of knowledge and to be able to impart it to others.”
– Jackie Hawley
Mentoring is also important within the Cantiamo Girls Choir, when TC choristers move up in to the main choir. This is a very big jump and can be overwhelming for new choristers. Each new chorister is assigned a mentor who helps with finding music in the large pile of repertoire, score marking, focus, and vocal support. The mentors give me updates on how the new choristers are doing and if they may need some individual attention from me. The mentors also make sure that at choir social events the new choristers are included and warmly welcomed as part of the group.
Finally, both Cantiamo Girls Choir and Training Choir mentor outside of the organization. For example, our annual school tour connects the Cantiamo choirs with school choirs for a mini-workshop, short rehearsal, and a massed performance for their school. We go into schools and have the school choir mix in with our choristers so that the school choristers can feel what it is like to sing in a large group of trained voices. When the Cantiamo choristers sing a descant over the school choir, it is fun to see the school choristers’ eyes light up in amazement. It is always an inspiring day for all involved.
Mentoring not only benefits the less experienced chorister but is also very valuable to the experienced chorister. It is empowering to realize one’s wealth of knowledge (even at a young age) and be able to impart it to others. They learn to listen reflectively and be proactive in working towards artistic depth. Creating an environment of collaboration and mutual support can only enhance the beauty of the music and the people in our choirs.
– Jackie Hawley, Choir Director