Choral Mentoring

Growing up in rural West Virginia, there wasn’t a wealth of musical opportunities for a young man like myself. I was fortunate to be enrolled in piano lessons, but the school I attended lacked music classes and ensemble opportunities. Singing was especially mysterious and unapproachable—I was absolutely certain that I could not sing! When I was fifteen years old, my newly lowered voice cracking and croaking, I was encouraged to join my adult church choir and my perspective on singing changed forever. Being mentored by adult singers and making music alongside them as an equal member of the choir nurtured my confidence and opened the door to a lifetime of choral singing.

A few years ago the Minnesota Boychoir’s Allegro ensemble and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC) joined forces to collaborate on a concert program. The young singers of Allegro (ages 14 to 18, singing tenor and bass) performed a set of their own repertoire before joining with the adult singers from TCGMC on several collaborative pieces. This shared concert was a season highlight for everyone who participated:

  • for Allegro, it afforded the young singers an opportunity for direct choral mentorship from more experienced singers and an introduction to the joy of lifelong singing;
  • for TCGMC, it allowed them the chance to serve as role models and mentors of the younger singers, both as musicians and as valued members of the community;
  • and for the audience of family, friends, and supporters of both Minnesota Boychoir and TCGMC, it provided a rare and inspiring occasion to witness several generations of diverse tenor-bass singers sing together and share their common musical experience.

Many other tenor-bass choirs regularly organize intergenerational collaborations through concerts, educational programs, and festivals. Apollo Male Chorus sponsors the Northstar Choral Festival, a free educational outreach program that brings together high school, collegiate, and community tenor-bass singers for a collaborative day of singing.

The high school singers who participate in our Northstar Choral Festival get a true multi-generational experience and we send a clear message that singing is worth doing throughout your life. That message is nurtured throughout the day-long festival, as our guys and the collegiate group we invite sing next to them—mentoring through voice and camaraderie. We get many comments that we use for our promotional materials and the resounding message is how cool, and fun, it was to sing with so many guys.
—Sean Vogt, Artistic Director, Apollo Male Chorus & Apollo Master Chorale

The members of Cantus, the professional tenor-bass ensemble based in Minneapolis, frequently participate in choral festivals and masterclasses while in residence in Minnesota and on tour around the country.

“During my time singing with Cantus, I had the opportunity to sing in dozens of festivals with young singers. Being a mentor and a role model is incredibly valuable and it can help young singers understand that there are ways to always have music be part of your life. Whether as an avocation or a vocation, there is nothing paradoxical about identifying as male and keeping music at the center of one’s world.”
—Aaron Humble, Mankato State University

Vancouver’s premiere tenor-bass choir Chor Leoni operates an expansive educational outreach program called MYVoice (Mobilizing Young men’s Voices) for singers aged 12–20. The MYVoice singers perform alongside other tenor-bass choirs at their annual choral festival, the VanMan Male Choral Summit.

“MYVoice has become one of the most important parts of what Chor Leoni does. Being on the West Coast, there is not nearly the tradition or culture of male singing like I grew up with in the Midwest US. By pairing the MYVoice men with some of the best educators in the area, bringing them together with over 300 other adult male singers from the area and providing them a major performance opportunity at our VanMan festival, we have already seen a culture of male choir singing begin to form. Not only are the young men making friends, learning to sing and feeling the particular joy that comes with singing with other guys, the MYVoice men are seeing that singing is an activity for a lifetime. More importantly, we see MYVoice and the VanMan as places where men can learn and redefine what it means to be a man. They learn that they can be strong AND sensitive, silly AND serious. The men of MYVoice also learn there is a large community of men who will accept them for exactly who they are. —Eric Lichte, Artistic Director, Chor Leoni

As you begin planning your own intergenerational tenor-bass choral collaboration, here are five musically accessible pieces on themes of welcome, inclusion, and mentorship to consider on the concert program:

African Processional (Jambo rafiki yangu
music by D.V. Montoya, lyrics by Carah Reed & D.V. Montoya (TTBB & percussion)
Pavane Publishing (P1232)

This excellent concert opener is set for Choir 1 (unison) and Choir 2 (TTBB), making it an ideal piece for combining a beginning level choir with a more experienced choir. The welcoming Swahili text is brief and easy to learn, and there are a variety of fully notated percussion opportunities for choir members to participate. Up-tempo, rhythmic, and joyous, Jambo rafiki yangu will delight singers and listeners of all generations.

music by Timothy C. Takach, text by Michael Dennis Browne (TB & piano)

Kin is an exceptional new piece from composer Timothy Takach. Originally commissioned by the Apollo Male Chorus, Kin is set for only two voice parts with a richly supportive piano accompaniment. The text by Michael Dennis Browne is a highlight for tenor-bass singers, as Takach states in his introduction: “If a choir of male singers is lucky enough to get together and make music, they need to have repertoire in which they can believe, and they need texts that have depth and truth in them—texts that we may not get the chance to say out loud. To me, this poem embodies what it’s like to sing in a room full of men, a room full of brotherhood.”

How Can I Keep from Singing?
arr. by Gwyneth Walker (TTBB & piano)
E.C. Schirmer Publishing (EC.6336)

One of the most creative choral settings of the familiar Robert Lowry hymn, Gwyneth Walker’s How Can I Keep from Singing? deserves a spot in the standard repertoire of all tenor-bass choruses. Appropriately, it’s the sheer “sing-ability” of this piece that keeps me coming back to it year after year; the rhythmic energy, vocal accessibility, and universally joyous theme make it impossible to resist. In addition to the scintillating piano accompaniment, versions for brass/percussion and full orchestra are also available for organizations with access to those resources.

It Takes a Village
music & lyrics by Joan Szymko (TTBB & percussion)
Santa Barbara Music Publishing (SBMP 1127)

Opportunities for solo voices and added percussion abound in Joan Szymko’s It Takes a Village, a celebration of community and shared responsibility for mentoring future generations. The straightforward nature of the setting (melody/harmonized melody/layered-voice accompaniment) is what gives this piece so much versatility—younger choirs can sing the melody throughout while more experienced choirs provide harmony and accompaniment, or the two can combine on the TTBB parts.

music by Christopher Aspaas, text by Rudyard Kipling (TTBB & piano)
Hal Leonard (00115146)

Composed for the 2012 Minnesota All-State Men’s Choir, Christopher Aspaas’s If sets the beloved Rudyard Kipling text with a contemporary flair and modern style. Syncopated rhythms and independence of vocal lines may be especially challenging for some singers; consider having younger choirs sing the frequently melodic T2 and B1 parts only while more experienced singers double those and cover the outer vocal parts. Kipling’s text is distinctly fitting for an intergenerational tenor-bass choral collaboration; it concludes: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”





About the author

Ben Riggs

Ben Riggs

Artistic Director, Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus