Eleven pieces of paper were taped to the walls around the Seymour High School choir room.
The messages included “Random acts of kindness,” “Move, soar, sail,” “Just do it,” “No one can make you feel inferior without consent,” “How you do anything is how you do everything” “and “Positive attitude, charge ahead, enjoy yourself.”
These were among the thoughts Thomas King, assistant professor of music at DePauw University in Greencastle, shared while talking about vocal technique with three different choirs.
King’s hope is that the students apply those thoughts to music and life.
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“It’s so that they realize that each one of them is an individual and needs to start at this point and go somewhere with it,” he said. “And if it’s not in music, that’s OK, too. It’s just in life.”
King has an extensive background in music education and performing. He has given voice lessons since 1970, and he taught high school choirs for 11 years. He’s now in his 28th year of teaching at the collegiate level. Also on his résumé are several operas and musicals.
King recently became acquainted with Seymour High School choral director Kyle Karum. Both are involved with the Bloomington Chamber Singers, and King heard Karum’s students when they recently performed with that group.
He decided to email Karum to see if he could spend a day with his students.
“I heard his choir in Bloomington at a concert, but I didn’t get to hear them the way they usually are because they were spread out,” King said. “I thought, ‘I know Kyle. I’ll just call him up and say, ‘Would you like me to come down sometime and work with them and say some things and maybe pep them up a little bit or give them some new ideas that they’ve not heard before?’ That mixture somehow speaks to some of the kids.”
Karum said he was excited about the opportunity for his students.
“Having sung with him in the past, I know he is a fantastic vocalist and that he could provide our students with some great feedback,” Karum said.
King’s lesson started with a hands-on approach.
He had four students join him in front of the classroom and place their fists near his ribs, back and chest as a way to learn breathing and vocal techniques while singing.
Shortly after that, he had a student place their hand around his neck, showing how it’s important to have a nice, open throat and keep your head straight while singing.
King also related music to fishing. As someone tosses their line out in hopes of reeling in a fish, the same idea can be applied to singing, as a person uses their voice to “reach out and grab” the audience.
By the end of the day, King had worked with 50 members of the men’s choir, 18 members of the sirenas or advanced women’s choir and 44 members of the colla voce or beginning women’s choir.
He said it was great to work with the high school students.
“It’s just somebody who is ready to blossom is the way I would describe it,” King said of the high-schoolers. “If I can help catch them at that point and give them the very next thing that they exactly need to know, then I’ve done my job in 45 minutes.”
Freshman Braden Handloser, a member of the men’s choir, said he learned a lot about vocal technique and how he can improve in singing.
“It was good to hear from someone else and learn new things about music and singing from someone different,” he said.
Handloser said King’s best piece of advice was to improve singing tone and sing louder.
“He told us to use our finger to measure how to open our mouth correctly,” he said.
Karum said King gave the students some good pointers.
“From the music and vocal side of things, I really liked how he talked about good vowel shape and breath support,” Karum said. “These concepts are vital to a good singing tone.”
Moving forward, Karum said he plans to integrate King’s tips into his classroom.
“I will follow up with these students and continue to reinforce his ideas by placing them in our daily warmups,” he said. “This way, we can start with these fundamental things and develop them throughout each rehearsal.”
Karum also liked how King focused on having a positive attitude, taking charge, reaching heights and other lessons.
“These are not only concepts students can learn for performing on a stage, but they are also ones that they can take with them as they move on to college and careers,” Karum said.
The last half of King’s visit with each choir gave him an opportunity to hear pieces of music they are working on for upcoming concerts.
He said he would like to return to Seymour to attend the concerts and also to see the show choir’s musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“I found out about when concerts are and the musical later in April,” King said. “I’m getting my wife, and we’re going to come back and watch the show and say, ‘Oh I worked with that kid. That’s cool’ and just see where they go next.”
For information about Thomas King, visit drthomasking.com.