Maura Volante, B.Ed, has been teaching vocal music since 1979, developing her own curricula over the years for adults and children. Her approach assumes that everyone can sing, that it is a healthy and pleasurable activity, and that it is a basic human right. The more people sing, the better they get. Maura offers techniques for improving the sound, but she has come to the conclusiong that the best way to sing better is to sing often. Her goal is to help people make singing a regular part of life.
The Folk Process
Maura is interested in what she calls the folk process of learning songs. In this process, the song takes precedence over the singer, the tunes are learned by ear and the lyrics are memorized so that singers are not reading lyrics as they sing. Maura acknowledges the utility of written music, but would rather the reading be done in private. In classes and songcircles she does not supply participants with printed lyrics or notation. Instead, singers look up, lip reading and watching for gestures; they listen for repetition and predictable rhymes and follow along with the leader, who has memorized the song. (At first this is usually Maura, but in an ongoing class this can be anyone who has taken the time to learn a song to share with the group.) This is the way folk songs have always been sung, and folk songs work best for this kind of learning because they are structured with lots of repetition, rhyme, stock phrases and other mnemonic devices. They also work best for unaccompanied singing because they contain the whole rhythmic structure in the melodies. Maura uses a lot of traditional songs, but also some originals and some other contemporary folk songs that fit these criteria.
Here is a list of songs on a pdf file that Maura carries around to remind herself what she knows by heart and can lead in a group. This may help acquaint you with what kind of thing to expect in a group singing session led by Maura.
Maura works primarily with groups. She has noticed that most people are not aiming for performance but simply want to regain the joy of singing that we all have as children but tend to lose along the way. For this, people need a positive experience so that they will keep doing it, and get better and better and enjoy it more and more. Singing in groups gives people confidence and a positive experience of their own voices, because the group helps people sing stronger and more in tune. Later, when singing alone or with family and friends, people remember that experience and it helps them keep on singing.
Maura sometimes offers classes and workshops through community centres (see current blog posts for upcoming opportunities), but most of Maura’s teaching is offered to groups that already exist or form part of a larger gathering such as a conference or festival. If you belong to an organization or are planning a gathering, consider including a songcircle, a singing class or workshop as part of the program.
One of the most relaxed and enjoyable formats for group singing is the songcircle. Allowing each person the opportunity to request or lead a song, this format is focused on fun for everyone. Usually each song is done one time through, rather than the group trying to learn it thoroughly. Maura brings a list of songs she can lead, but anyone who knows a song by heart can lead it when it is their turn.
This format is equally accessible for people who sing often and those who never sing. The group pulls most people into key and the rest are free to sing off key. After all, it is not a performance. It is all about fun. Maura puts people at ease so that even while engaging in challenging activities (which includes any kind of singing for many people) folks have fun and relax.
Maura will bring this activity to any group of people who want to engage in singing. Here are just a few of the possible occasions in which a songcircle would be appropriate:
Retreats – Vary the programming at your next organizational retreat or planning session. A songcircle works as a good natured, non-competitive team building exercise, enabling a different way of interacting with each other.
Parties – Bring your guests together with a focus on singing, and make your birthday or any other occasion a gathering to remember.
Recreational & Educational Programming – Groups of all sizes and ages can benefit from the casual and adaptable format of a songcircle. It can be an enhancement of another program or a program in itself. This format has been utilized successfully with adults and children of all ages and diverse abilities.
Music of the Moment
Another huge interest for Maura is improvisational singing, and most of her classes include some of what she calls Music of the Moment. Usually the format is call-and-response, leading to simple musical phrase-making, occasionally with words but mostly just sounds. Improvisational singing can be the focus of a workshop or class, or it can be simply a way of warming up without resorting to anything that feels like an exercise.
Here is a document outlining the various programs Maura can bring to a camp or outdoor program:
Maura also welcomes students to join her in private or semi-private lessons, using the folk process as described above. Her focus is on the songs, rather than the singers, and the purpose of studying with Maura is primarily to learn how to learn songs and sing them with confidence.
Whether you sing with Maura in a classroom, a home, a festival, a workplace, the woods or a conference hall, you will experience the following kinds of skill development:
- Relaxing and loosening up to allow your voice to emerge
- Breathing and body awareness
- Developing your memory through repetitions of easy songs
- Rhythmic structures of music, related to body movement
- Increased confidence and enjoyment of singing