The Power of Song in Collegiate Music Curricula


  • Hilary Apfelstadt University of Toronto


This presentation focuses on ways that singing can be integrated throughout collegiate music curricula to enrich vocal students’ education. Typically, undergraduate voice majors study privately, sing in ensembles, and participate in opera workshop, scenes, or full-scale productions, especially if they are performance majors. Graduate curricula frequently couple opera studies and private lessons, and may include an ensemble requirement. Yet it is not uncommon to hear arguments that the choral ensemble is not a necessary component of the students’ education, especially at the master’s degree level. It is a fact, however, that many of these singers will eventually earn part of their living by singing in ensembles as section leaders, for example. The author argues that an education that balances all three aspects of singing provides the most comprehensive experience for developing artistically competent singers. What students learn about technique and expression in the voice studio directly connects to their choral experience, where emphasis on reading and aural skills, among other things, enhances personal musicianship. Through opera study, the student learns to bring drama and depth to musical presentation as he or she moves on stage in the guise of a particular character or role. Transmitting that understanding both to solo and ensemble settings can enrich both. In the paper, I will examine in detail how the areas overlap and how the benefits of each, in combination, can mitigate concerns about solo singing vs. ensemble singing, for example, or about over-taxing singers. A tri-part vocal education, even at the graduate level, provides untold opportunities for unleashing the power of song. The presentation will also describe suggestions for integrating study, including sample performance (i.e. concert) programs.

Author Biography

Hilary Apfelstadt, University of Toronto

Hilary Apfelstadt is Director of Choral Activities at the University of Toronto, a position she assumed in the fall of 2010. She conducts MacMillan Singers, a select mixed chamber choir, and the newly-formed Women’s Chamber Ensemble, as well as teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in conducting and choral repertoire. An alumna of the University of Toronto in Vocal Music Education, she earned graduate degrees in music education from the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also holds a diploma in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. For several years, she sang with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers and recorded two Grammy award-winning CD’s with them in France. Her teaching career includes public school and college positions in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, as well as in North Carolina and Ohio. From 1993 – 2010, she was Professor and Director of Choral Activities at the Ohio State University in Columbus, where she also served as Associate Director of the School of Music from 2008 – 2010. Choirs under her direction have performed at regional and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), at MENC regional and state conferences, at Carnegie Hall (2006 and 2010), and in Europe. She has conducted numerous all-state and honor choirs throughout the U.S., and has guest conducted in Austria, Canada, Cuba, England, and Switzerland. In 2009, she conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word.” In June 2011, she will conduct a choral festival at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. She has presented papers and conducting master classes in numerous professional venues, and serves on the editorial boards of three journals on choral music including the NCCO Choral Scholar and the ACDA Choral Journal. A prolific author, she has published more than seventy articles on choral music and education, and wrote two chapters in Wisdom, Wit and Will: Women Choral Conductors on their Art (GIA, 2009). A life member of ACDA, Hilary Apfelstadt has served as state president of the North Carolina chapter, as Central Division President, and as National President (2007 – 2009). She remains on the Executive Committee through June 2013. She has twice been honored with service awards from ACDA, in North Carolina (1993) and in Ohio (2008). She also holds memberships in ACCC and Choirs Ontario.