A Case Study of the Process of an Adult Female Learning to Sing in a Senior Chorus


  • Mary L. Cohen University of Iowa
  • Erin Smith University of Iowa,


The purpose of this study is to examine, over nine months, the perceptions and processes of an adult female who is learning to sing with a chorus for adults over 50 years old. The three-part process is as follows: 1) exploring the history of her life story with respect to previous singing experiences, perceptions, and frustrations, 2) assessing her vocal skills with respect to vocal range, body alignment, breath management, and pitch accuracy, and 3) developing her ability to match pitch with other singers and to sing harmony with the chorus. The following research questions guided the investigation: 1) Why did this particular person not learn to sing while growing up? 2) How does not singing earlier in her life affect her self-identity and her self-perception? 3) What elements of her individual and group singing practice help and hinder her ability to sing with the chorus? And 4) How does learning to sing with the chorus affect her self-identity and her self-perception? This embedded case study (Yin, 2003) employed a grounded theory qualitative methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Data collection included written reflections from three music teachers who alternately worked with the singer twice per week, vocal range, duration of a singing a middle C on “loo,” written reflections from the singer, in-depth interviews with the singer, and direct observation. Open, selective, and axial coding were used for data analysis and theory generation. Findings and implications for choral music education are described. Further research directions and studies are suggested.

Author Biography

Mary L. Cohen, University of Iowa

MARY L. COHEN is Assistant Professor of Music Education at the University of Iowa, where she teaches general music, choral methods, and graduate courses. She holds BME, MME and PhD degrees from the University of Kansas, and has ten years experience teaching general music in the schools of that state. Mary has completed two levels of Orff-Schulwerk Training, participated in Dalcroze training, Laban Movement Analysis training, Creative Motion workshops, and Alexander Technique study. She has directed choirs of all ages, children through senior citizens. In her work with Arts in Prison, she taught an integrated art and music class at a maximum security prison, directed choirs comprised of prison inmates and community volunteers, recruited arts instructors, and helped new arts in corrections instructors begin teaching arts classes to inmates. Mary’s research interests include history and philosophy of music education, arts in corrections education, choral singing and well-being, and the application of movement theories in music teaching. She has presented her research at international and national conferences, including the Cultural Diversity in Music Education Conference, the International Phenomenon of Singing Symposium, the International Correctional Education Association Conference, the Music and Lifelong Learning Symposium, the National Association for Music Education (MENC), the Desert Skies Symposium on Research in Music Education, the American Dance Therapy Association Conference, and the American Orff-Schulwerk Association Conference. Her research is published in the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing, the Australian Journal of Music Education, Journal of Correctional Education, and Choral Journal.