ONLINE ENHANCEMENT OF CHORAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION
James F. Daugherty
Division of Music Education and Music Therapy, University of Kansas
President Clinton (1997) wants to connect every classroom in America to the
information superhighway. Lewis Perelman (1992) argues that cyber learning is the
education of the future, a worthy successor to mass public schooling as we know
it. Such fascination, even romanticism, with respect to computer technology in
education is nigh ubiquitous. Ready or not, like it or not, our lifeworld, as Don
Ihde puts it, is irrevocably "technologically textured."
As a choral music educator, I confess to a certain ambivalence on this score. I
am not convinced that cyberspace-no matter how well-designed or synchronously
intended-is positioned to compete with the unique, real-time character of
students and teachers making "music" together ... whether in classroom
interaction or ensemble rehearsal. Much of my teaching career has been in the
public schools of rural Appalachia. In that context, I would rather hear the
President call for properly heated classrooms, adequate nutrition, and an end to
student fundraising for music, risers, and pianos. Even banning the low tech
public address system during class time could be a step forward.
So I preface my remarks today, not as a reactionary curmudgeon, but as one who
believes that there are value issues to be defined and investigated before choral
music educators embrace computer technology with eschatological zeal.1
At the same time, I believe that
in the hands of capable teachers in proper contexts such technology can provide
effective enrichment to choral music instruction. There can be a digital
interface to much that we do, or should be doing, as choral music educators. To
that end, I address online enhancement in the following areas: (a) choral
ensembles from middle school through university levels; (b) choral conducting
classes; and (c) choral methods courses. It is in the spirit of possibility
rather than prescription that the succeeding suggestions are made. As Robert
McClintock (1997) ably states, "Technological innovations do not create ideas, or
hopes and aspirations, but they do change the ecology of feasibility."
For purposes of this paper, feasibility assumes a suitable infrastructure in
place. That is, students and teachers have available to them computers with
online access capability, and the instructor has appropriate software for
designing and maintaining web pages. While the suggestions that follow could to
some degree be incorporated into classroom activities, much as the "learning
centers" of a prior era, it is further assumed that these activities would be
performed from home, or perhaps from a school computer removed from the choral
This working assumption by no means denigrates the use of computers for musical
learning in the classroom or rehearsal area. It simply recognizes that in many
schools computers are housed in a separate laboratory. It also makes the value
judgment that, while rehearsals and class sessions in the choral context can
indeed be enhanced by a single computer whose screen is projected for wider
viewing, too often such presentations are teacher-centered and student-passive.
These projections may incorporate quite appealing "bells and whistles" with the
use of interactive media. Yet, inherently, they are little different in
pedagogical function from writing on the blackboard, showing a video, or playing
the piano, unless intentionally structured otherwise. In the absence of a
plethora of published programs, they also tend to consume an inordinate amount of
instructor preparation time that perhaps could be better spent on strategies with
more opportunity for student interactive involvement.
Online Enhancement with Choral Ensembles
By their nature, choral ensemble rehearsals are oriented toward synchronous group
performance in ways that often differ from courses in general music, music
theory, or musicology. Yet, if singers are to perform with rich understanding,
some degree of relationship is desirable between the ways of knowing encountered
both in choral performance classes and other music courses.
Two issues under current discussion with respect to school choral rehearsals are
incorporating the National Standards for Arts Education and implementing
alternative assessment measures. The Internet affords feasibility and relative
economy to the pursuit of both concerns. In addition, online work may introduce
and reinforce concepts important to vocal technique and the literature being
rehearsed by the choir.
Take, for instance, the Concert Choir website at the University of Kansas.
link to rehearsal notes leads to information for students to pencil in their
scores and use in learning the music. Posting such notes on the web page saves
considerable rehearsal time. A quick glance at student scores is all that is
necessary to confirm that they have been marked by the required date. It also
facilitates individual student practice and potentially prepares the way for more
productive ensemble rehearsal. Further, such web notes can provide convenient
links to other information such as the composer's biography, the historical
period, culture, and characteristics of style and form. Search engines permit
students to locate and explore other related sites.
Use of web forms provides a convenient way for the instructor to devise questions
related to collateral reading, as well as assess student comprehension. Students
email completed responses to the teacher, an indication that the material has at
least been read. The instructor may also wish students to post a question or
comment to a chat board, thus enabling clarification of the reading as well as
dialogue among choristers.
Far from promoting isolation, use of the internet (as one approach among others),
potentially fosters greater interactivity. In traditional classroom presentations
or discussions, inevitably there are those students who are either shy,
unprepared, or content with superficial responses. Online work, by contrast,
solicits contributions from every student. As one student said, "Posting comments
to the net forces me to know the material and think before responding. 1 need to
say something halfway intelligent because my comment will be there for everyone
This is but one way national content standards dealing with performing a varied
repertoire, historical context, culture, analyzing and describing music, and
understanding relationships between choral music and other disciplines can be
incorporated efficiently into choral instruction. Rather than consume
music-making time with teacher-talk about these facets, the conductor simply
voices succinct comments or questions during rehearsal to facilitate transfer
between what has been done on the web to ensemble rehearsal of the literature at
hand. In such manner, the flow of rehearsal is maintained and formal knowledge
can be related to procedural knowledge in the context of actual music making.
Evaluation of musical performances is another content standard easily managed via
the web. Evaluation forms allow students to post succinct and timely appraisals
of both the choir's progress and performances by other ensembles. Indeed, it is
desirable for students to submit such evaluations no later than 12 hours
following the rehearsal or performance being assessed in order to receive credit.
Such immediacy is not always possible when dealing with hardcopy evaluations.
Use of email software such as Eudora allows the instructor to maintain separate
mailbox folders for each student. Each email received from a student goes into
his or her folder. At the end of the semester or marking period, the instructor
has a ready-made portfolio of each student's online work to use in assessing
Although music theory and harmony assignments can be designed by the teacher and
posted on the web site, many useful and well-designed applications are to be
found elsewhere on the Web today. By taking advantage of such sites, the
instructor can devise a rich array of activities relating to these skills,
including referring students to sites that offer practice opportunities in areas
where a student may be deficient.
Assignments may also be constructed using audio files. To cite one example,
foreign language diction practice is easily accomplished with audio files of
discrete segments of the diction to be mastered. In this manner, choristers may
practice short phrases by clicking on the link as many times as necessary to
master the task. In addition to any grade points involved, imbedding the answer
to a riddle or piece of trivia in the files can entice students to visit the
site. Student email response regarding the imbedded answer provides a record of
the visit. A similar principle can be followed if the teacher desires to record
and post particularly troublesome passages in individual voice parts as an aid to
student practice. Caution should be exercised, however, lest the files consume
inordinate amounts of memory or download time that lead to frustration.
Providing links to other potentially germane sites can stimulate individual
student research or collaborative learning projects. Assisting students to create
their own web pages for reporting is one means of structuring such learning.
Evaluation is facilitated in this context if the index page contains buttoned
links specifically pointing to "John's Contributions" or "Amy's Contributions."
The Internet may also facilitate collaboration or conversation with choristers
from other schools, either in the same district or from other parts of the nation
or world. With proper planning and preparation, listservs or chat boards can be
used to facilitate interaction among students in geographically distant locations
on such matters as rehearsal repertoire, projects, or reading assignments.
Appropriate journal articles can also be scanned and then linked to the course
web page. Copyright becomes an issue here, so the instructor should proceed with
caution. However, it is generally accepted that employing password protection and
taking the material off the site at semester's end structure a situation little
different from putting the article on library reserve. I have found, for
instance, that students from middle school through university levels, respond
particularly well to articles about vocal health and voice care, especially when
links are also provided to sites such as the Center for Voice Disorders at Wake
Forest University. There, students can actually see abused or diseased vocal
folds, and learn about current, ongoing research into vocal health and treatment.
Synchronous student work in a choral context, whereby the whole ensemble or a
particular section is online and interacting at the same time, is also possible.
At first glance, such an event may seem patently redundant and unnecessary.
However, there are contexts in which teachers may wish to consider such an
Sometimes school is closed due to weather conditions or for other reasons. Yet
the date for the school musical or ensemble travel is fixed. Synchronous online
presence can be an imaginative means to accomplish valuable instructional
objectives and keep choristers focused when school is out. Characters in the
musical may rehearse their lines, while members of various crews discuss the most
efficient means of carrying out their assigned tasks. The whole ensemble may
interact regarding details and behavioral expectations of an upcoming trip.
Particular voice sections may even conduct online sectional rehearsals that focus
upon brainstorming, reviewing, and assessing various approaches to phrasing,
agogic stress, and expressive details.
In such synchronous online work, teacher presence is vital to facilitate and
monitor student behaviors. Teachers, of course, must also plan if such an
approach is to be utilized as a contingency measure on days when school may be
closed. Having the email addresses of all students, and informing students to
check their email on such days, is one means of assuring synchronous student
In such online enhancement of choral rehearsals lends feasibility, resources, and
time efficiency to such goals as: (a) incorporation of the National Standards in
Arts Education; (b) alternate and varied modes of assessing student work; (c)
relating "knowledge of' to "knowledge about" music making in a way that insures
the active participation and reflection of each singer; and (d) providing for
synchronous online presence when the situation may warrant it.
Online Enhancement with Choral Conducting Classes
Many of the ideas and principles enumerated above can be transferred and applied
to undergraduate conducting and rehearsal leadership classes. It is common in
such contexts, for instance, for students to evaluate regularly videotapes of
their conducting. Web forms for this purpose can facilitate both learning and
timeliness. The construction of the form itself focuses student attention on
germane skills, and the proviso that such forms be mailed within 12-24 hours to
receive credit can prevent situations where students scramble to view and
evaluate their videotapes days or weeks removed from the conducting event. The
date and time the form was completed and submitted is on record, and,
again, instructors can construct separate mailboxes for each student, thereby
having at semester's end a full record and portfolio of each student's
evaluations. Moreover, the instructor can provide pertinent comments and
encouragement on each student submission, returning it by email in a timely
This Procedure may be adapted as well to other areas of rehearsal leadership.
Separate web forms for evaluating warm-ups or percentages of conductor talk or
eye contact are entirely possible and often useful. Again, the advantage is that
students can complete such evaluations and receive helpful feedback well before
the next class meeting or conducting experience.
Links to choral literature resources and databases facilitate both planning and
economize time use in conducting classes. Online sites devoted to specific
composers, musical periods or styles, as well as online discussions such as those
found with ChoralNet or Pepper can also be useful resources. In short, Internet
enhancement of choral conducting and rehearsal leadership classes offers
potential for a far richer and more timely student experience than approaches
largely confined to class meeting days.
Online Enhancement for Choral Methods Classes
Choral methods classes present still other avenues for offline enhancement and
assessment. Primary among these are engagement with links to professional
organizations such as MENC and ACDA (including regional and state affiliates),
participation in professional listservs, use of music education journal search
engines, evaluating various public school choral department sites and choir
handbooks, and links to information on such concerns as state department of
education policies, job search, interview strategies, arts advocacy groups, and,
increasingly, web pages constructed by the authors of textbooks that invite
discussion and dialogue.3 Such sites potentially offer more up
to date, useful
information than that typically found in many methods textbooks.
They also raise issues of evaluation and assessment of information. Just because
something is posted does not guarantee its accuracy, comprehensiveness, or
fairness. Yet this potential stumbling block can be an opportunity to teach
prospective teachers how to filter and evaluate information related to the
profession, and, in so doing, to nudge them into defining and refining their own
values and philosophies of choral music education.
The immediacy offered by use of web forms and email also make reporting on
reading assignments and school site visits more relevant by providing opportunity
for timely student reflection and instructor feedback. Online testing and quizzes
via web forms and chat boards moreover, are not only feasible, but often
desirable. For example, having students respond toll case study' scenario
incorporating and assessing such principles as rehearsal structure and pacing,
sequenced warm-ups, working with changing adolescent voices, sight-reading
strategies, sequential teaching cycles, and behavior management provides
opportunity for "real life" reflection and transfer.
The case study approach can be even more effective if the instructor employs
discrete online video clips of actual or role-played teaching situations. Here,
again, computer memory and download time may become issues. However, if these
matters can be satisfactorily resolved, students respond via web form noting
first what behaviors actually occurred, then evaluating those teaching behaviors
and offering alternative, "best practice" suggestions. The instructor provides
feedback on the web form quiz, and returns it to the student via email.
Thereafter, responses of all students to particular scenarios can be grouped and
posted on the Web, either anonymously or by name. In this way, students have
opportunity to gauge their responses in relation to those of their peers, and to
think in a concrete way about observations and strategies they may previously
have missed. Obviously, such practice is also possible to varying degrees without
the online component. Putting it online, however, offers advantages of (a)
timeliness; (b) accountability, in that students rarely wish to appear mundane or
incompetent knowing that their responses will be peer reviewed; (c) ease of
assessment by the instructor, permitting an electronic, portfolio file of student
work; and (d) in the case of video clips, allowing students to replay the clips
as often as necessary.
Finally, some universities are exploring ways to interact with choral methods
classes offered during the same semester at other institutions. Strategies as
simple as having all students in the participating universities respond to a
common, weekly question can enhance the potential of students in different places
to learn from each other.
Current technology offers exciting possibilities for enabling--potentially
transforming--educational experiences. Yet no amount of online work can overcome
bad teaching or substitute for teacher preparation. Indeed, employing effective
online enhancement requires more intentionality, more organization, and more
advanced planning on the part of choral music educators to achieve instructional
goals. It calls for teachers, in effect, to craft and publish their own
electronic resource books, constantly revised and tailored to the needs of their
At the same time, however, online enhancement is uniquely positioned to make more
use of project method and inquiry-based learning strategies than the traditional
class session or rehearsal. This feasibility, along with the necessity for high
level teacher skills just noted, may signal a transformation in the way choral
teachers do business.
In this sense, technology is not neutral. More than being just a new way of
organizing information, online enhancement in a choral context may move
instruction away from a traditionally teacher-centered approach nowhere more
evident than the stereotypical conductor on a podium-to a more student-centered
approach. Here passivity gives way to affording students a voice in the
boundaries of the information they process and the skills they learn. Such a
result may be a good thing. Yet, as Rud (1997) notes, it also raises questions:
"How do we engage our students in sufficiently rich activities so that they can
see how much is both revealed and concealed in what they are doing online?" To
fail in this task risks recasting Rousseau's Emile in cyberspace.
If teachers are to acquire skills of effective online enhancement, some
rethinking and coordination of both university music education curricula and
ongoing professional development will be necessary. Teachers must be adept not
only at designing their own web-based experiences, but also in assisting students
to relate information encountered elsewhere online to the purposes, knowledge and
skills of their courses.
Though MENC endorses use of technology in music learning, two of its most recent
publications on how to implement the National Standards in choral music ensembles
contain not one example in the use of computer technology to facilitate this
process (Swiggum, 1998 and Small & Bowers, 1997). This observation by no
means invalidates such otherwise excellent materials. It does suggest, however,
that professional methods literature also needs to move beyond thinking solely in
terms of blackboards, manuscript paper, and audio players.
Finally, while some analyses claim that the web and its hypertext are leading
students to a poststructuralist way of thinking (Landow, 1992), quite the
opposite may be true for teachers. To use the web effectively, they must learn to
structure it in decidedly formal ways. As McClintock observes, "Technological
change may condition the range of possibilities for human actions; it does not
foreordain outcomes within the conditioned range."
1 Actually, these are values issues that obtain in any teaching context: decisions about what to teach, how to sequence it, and how best to assess student learning. See, in this regard, George N. Heller, "Computers and Other Delusions in Music Education, Kansas Music Review, 60, no.4 (November 1998), and Nicholas C. Burbules and Thomas A. Callister, "Knowledge at the Crossroads: Some Alternative Futures of Hypertext Learning Environments," Educational Theory, 46, no. 1 (Winter, 1996). Whether one accepts the instrumentalist view that internet learning is simply a tool, or the prescriptivist stance that hypertext environments foster compliance to new ways of thinking, someone. either the teacher or the designer of the system, is making such decisions and judgments of value.
3 See, for instance,
http://www.utoronto.ca/musicmat/, a website by David Elliott, author of
Music Matters (New York, Oxford University Press, 1995).
Clinton, W.J. (1997). State of the Union address (January, 1997).
Ihde, Don (1990). Technology and the Lifeworld. Bloomington: Indiana
Landow, George P. (1992). Hypprtext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical
Theory and Technology . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
McClintock, Robert (1997). Educating for the 21st Century. An Address to the
Conference on The Internet and Politics, sponsored by The Academy for the Third
Millenium, (Munich, Germany, February 21, 1997). available online at:
McClintock, Robert (1997). The American Experience: A Look Ahead at the Future of
ICT in Education. A talk at the Information and Communication Technology
Conference, Congrescentrum Deh Blije Werelt, Lunteren, The Netherlands (November
8, 1997). available online at: http://www.ilt.columbia.edulmcclintock/ict
Perelman, Lewis J. (1992). School's Out: Hyperlearning. the New Technology,
and the End of Education. New York: William Morrow.
Rud, Jr., Anthony G. (1997) Banality and Optimim: Webbed Education. Philosophy
of Education Society Yearbook. available online at:
Small, Ann R., & Bowers, Judy K. (Eds.Xl997). Strategies for Teaching
Elementary and Middle-Level Chorus Reston, VA: MENC.
Swiggurn, Randal (Ed.)(1998). Strategies for Teaching High School Chorus
Reston, VA: MENC.