A composersings the praises of some Lawrence choir students.
Bob Chilcott's giving pointers to your vocal music class is like having Shaquille O'Neal show up at your pick-up basketball game.
It just doesn't happen every day.
Southwest Junior High School vocal music students had the opportunity Thursday morning to learn how Chilcott wants his compositions to be sung. The British composer and longtime member of The King's Singers conducted a 30-minute workshop at the school.
The students, under the direction of vocal music teacher Janeal Krehbiel, will sing Chilcott's newest work, "Singing by Numbers, Seven Songs about Singing," at Kansas University's "Joy of Singing" concert on March 10 at the Lied Center. The performance will be the American premiere of the work, which was commissioned by the Association of British Choral Directors.
As the students sang passages from "Sing you now" and "Hey down a down/Sing with thy mouth," Chilcott listened intently.
"Lovely, lovely singing," he said during a short break. "When you write something, you never know how it will sound."
The composition's creator told the students about the effect -- a slow, soft-toned echoing -- he wanted to produce with the first piece.
"It needs to be slower and softer. There's an energy you get when you sing quieter," he explained, adding that the vowel sounds needed more definition and to be stretched out longer.
"You almost taste the vowels," he said.
Chilcott told the students that he likes to watch videos of today's popular singers because they enunciate their words so well.
"Whitney Houston articulates confidence, and her words are very clear," he said. "Every bit of the word is alive. Every consonant, every vowel is alive."
Chilcott, who was making his first visit to the Lawrence public schools, said he was stunned by how well the young singers could perform his "very hard" work.
"You could go anywhere in Britain (preparatory schools) and not hear singing like this," he said.
The composer said choral music training is important to a child's development: Children learn teamwork and develop an understanding of hierarchy because every choir member has his own position within the group. Choral training exposes children to quality music. And because money and status is not required to participate, vocal music is a performance medium that can instill discipline and self-esteem in every child.
"Choir is one of the most brilliant things," he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Chilcott worked with Topeka High School choir students in Murphy Hall and then spoke at KU's Department of Music and Dance Convocation in Swarthout Recital Hall. Today, he will work with KU's Oread Consort and Chamber Choir and the Lawrence High School Choir.
Chilcott will perform tonight with The King's Singers, a six-member a cappella group, at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Mo. His visit to Lawrence was coordinated by Simon Carrington, the retired founder of The King's Singers and now director of KU's choral activities.