For over a decade, Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia has hosted The Contemporary Commercial Music Vocal Pedagogy Institute. The Institute has drawn in teachers, performers, directors, and other professionals from all over the world who seek to learn more about the unique vocal demands for Contemporary Commercial Music singing. Contemporary Commercial Music, or ‘CCM’ for short, is a term that refers to all ‘non-classical’ styles of music (pop, rock, musical theatre, jazz, gospel, blues, R&B, etc.).
This year, The CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute is in the midst of a major ‘reboot’ of sorts under the direction of the Institute’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathryn Green, and new Artistic Director, Dr. Matthew Edwards. Today, Matt is joining us here at Musical Theatre Resources to tell us more about the exciting new direction that The CCM Institute is heading in.
1. Hello Matt, I know you have a lot on your plate right now, so thank you for joining us here today. For readers who aren’t familiar with the acronym ‘CCM’, would you mind explaining what it means exactly?
The acronym stands for Contemporary Commercial Music, a label used to describe various types of non-classical singing (see the Sept./Oct. 2002 Journal of Singing for more information). Being able to identify these styles by what they are instead of what they are not was a huge leap forward in the evolution of contemporary voice pedagogy.
2. I know The CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute is in the midst of a major ‘reboot’ this year. What can you tell readers about this new incarnation of the Institute, and how do you foresee it growing in upcoming years?
The CCM Institute has been working hard to do exactly what you said – “reboot” and move in a new direction. The term “Institute” suggests a broad focus both in content and scope of services it provides. This new incarnation hopes to include a larger overview of proven CCM methods currently being utilized in today’s entertainment industry. Over the long-term, I envision an organization that is active more than just ten days a year and that takes the lead in bringing the CCM voice pedagogy community together, working towards common goals while respectfully acknowledging each other’s differences. There are voice teachers throughout this country getting incredible results using different techniques. There are indisputable facts and then there are opinions about how to get to the end product. I think we are ready to start having open conversations about these differences and begin working together to find the best methods for the wide range of diversity we have both in our studios and within the marketplace. Voice science is the underlying basis for everything we do. As researchers continue to unlock the mysteries of the voice and the industry continues to change, the Institute will evolve and adapt.
3. A forum-type setting for performers and teachers to discuss different CCM teaching methods is something that hasn’t really existed until now. Do you foresee any major challenges integrating these different vocal teaching methods into the Institute? I know that even minor differences in terminology between training methods can lead to much debate among voice teachers.
I believe the profession is ready and hungry for this kind of a format. We are trying to lead a cultural shift and we are well aware that anytime you try to take on such a task there is the potential for debate. I truly believe that all vocal pedagogues are trying to do what they believe is best for their students and in many cases they are getting great results. Researchers have shed light on how learning styles and personalities differ greatly from student to student, which is why different approaches work for different singers. Several years ago, I started asking myself “am I dismissing ideas that could be game-changers for the singers in my studio?” I started trying new things and guess what – they worked. I feel comfortable trying new and unusual ideas because I know how the system works, the voice science behind phonation, and I can objectively analyze a technique and understand what a given exercise is trying to accomplish. The faculty at the Institute want all of our graduates to feel the same way. This is science but it is not rocket science; anyone can learn to teach functionally. When teachers learn to think this way, they will have more fun in the studio and get better results in a shorter amount of time.
4. Why do we need The CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute? Do you think we’ve reached a point where traditional, ‘classical’ voice training is no longer enough?
The scientific evidence is overwhelming – there ARE mechanical as well as stylistic differences between classical and CCM styles. It is impossible to codify “classical” or “bel canto” pedagogy. Even one of the world’s greatest classical pedagogues, Richard Miller, said “…there is no specific codified system of bel canto waiting for the vocal neophyte to pick up and assimilate. Despite some claims that certain teachers have a direct link to “the old Italians,” no modern teacher can honestly profess to teach some clearly delineated method that is universally recognized as being “the bel canto method.” If you pick up Great Singers on Great Singing or Spectrum of Voices you will find that many of the world’s greatest singers and teachers disagree on fundamental concepts of vocal production. Some classical concepts work great for CCM singing, others such as a lowered larynx, high soft palate, and low diaphragmatic breaths create acoustic and functional disadvantages for the CCM singer. The Institute trains teachers to evaluate what each singer needs and how to create an individualized plan to address issues that are specific to each student.
5. Could you please tell readers about the other CCM Institute faculty members this year? I know most of you all personally, and I can attest that the 2016 faculty members are truly some of the leaders in the field today.
Briefly talking about them is difficult, they are all very exciting and there is a lot to share. The guest artists this year include Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, CCC-SLP, Marci Rosenberg, CCC-SLP, Sheri Sanders, and Lisa Popeil. Wendy and Marci are world-renowned speech language pathologists and singing voice specialists who have spent their lives helping singers and demystifying the singing voice. Their book “The Vocal Athlete” is a must-have for all teachers of singing. Sheri Sanders is the best-known pop/rock audition coach in NYC. She has clients in every major rock musical and knows nearly everyone in the casting community. She knows what it takes to be a successful performer and we are thrilled to bring her expertise to teachers. Finally we have internationally recognized singing teacher Lisa Popeil. Lisa is based in L.A. and will bring an entirely different viewpoint to the Institute. The L.A. industry has different tastes and needs and it will be great to have her here to discuss those in addition to sharing her technical approach to teaching vocal styles.
In addition to our special guests, attendees will see some familiar faces. We have several past faculty members returning this year including Tom Arduini, Marcelle Gauvin, and Ed Reisert. In addition, we have Executive Director Dr. Kathryn Green, Institute co-founder Edrie Means-Weekly, and myself.
It is a very diverse group that brings together a wide range of experiences and opinions but we all have one thing in common – we believe in science and open dialogue. With such a diverse faculty, I feel confident that everyone who comes is going to find someone that they can connect with and a thought process that works for them.
6. Who do you think would best be served by attending the new CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute? (performers, teachers, music directors, etc.)
The first two sessions are definitely geared towards teachers, coaches, praise and worship team leaders, choral directors, music directors, and speech language pathologists. However, we feel the information will be of interest to anyone who is interested in learning more about the voice. The third session will be of interest to everyone who sings or works with singers. That includes high school and college students, professional performers, music therapists, as well as teachers, coaches, etc. This is the way Lisa has always taught her workshops and we though her session would be a great first step in making the Institute more accessible to those who are primarily performers.
7. Will The CCM Institute be focused on any one style of CCM singing (musical theatre, pop/rock, jazz, etc), or will it be inclusive of all CCM styles?
Throughout the sessions we will be talking about different technical approaches across CCM genres and have master classes with singers performing pop, rock, R&B, country, jazz as well as musical theatre.
8. Could you please tell readers a little about the different courses/levels being offered at the Institute this year? Will they change in future years?
This year, we are offering sessions that can be taken individually or together. The first session is ideal for anyone who is new to CCM pedagogy or for those looking to review the anatomy of the human voice and what happens during respiration and phonation. Unlike traditional anatomy courses, we will not only identify the various muscle groups and how they work, but also how they interact during CCM singing. We will also discuss how the vocal tone changes when adjustments are made to the mechanism to help improve the teacher’s auditory diagnosis skills. In addition to addressing the respiratory and phonatory systems, we will also talk about exercise science, motor skill learning, and how research in those disciplines can inform our teaching. All techniques can be broken down into three categories: indirect, tactile, and assertive/aggressive. Participants will learn a wide variety of approaches that fall into those categories while also learning the advantages and potential disadvantages of each exercise. This will give all teachers, regardless of their background, a new way of thinking about teaching voice and hopefully a new respect for the wide variety of approaches used by CCM pedagogues. We will also be addressing vocal health in this session with a specific focus on preventing students from getting injured.
The second session addresses the vocal tract – everything between the vocal folds and the lips. Participants, in a small group format, will learn how the various elements of the vocal tract move, what those movements feel like, and most importantly what they sound like. They will then spend time learning to listen for those same vocal qualities and how to develop exercises to address those specific areas in different styles. Almost more important than any of this information is how to create art. That is why we have invited Sheri Sanders to spend an afternoon connecting the dots between technique and artistry.
The third session will consist of three days studying how to teach and sing in non-musical theatre CCM styles with guest master teacher Lisa Popeil. Lisa will talk about how the various mechanisms move differently between styles. She will also address sub-styles of belting, charisma enhancement, anxiety reduction techniques, stage performance for commercial genres, and problem solving techniques for teachers and singers.
As the Institute evolves, we plan on continuing to feature prominent voice specialists and pedagogues who represent the current trends in CCM styles. It is likely that some of the guests will change year-to-year, so we anticipate that there will always be something new and exciting to learn and a reason to keep coming back. There is no limit to what the future holds!
9. Do CCM Institute participants receive any type of certification for completing courses?
Participants will receive a certificate of completion for each level. If they stay for all three levels, they will receive a certificate in the “Foundations of CCM Voice Pedagogy” from Shenandoah University. In addition, all courses offer graduate credit (without any additional cost) and CEUs will be available for speech therapists for a nominal fee (contact Dr. Kathryn Green for more information).
10. Thanks again, Matt. Where can readers learn more about yourself and The CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute?
For information about the Institute, visit CCMInstitute.com. My personal website is EdwardsVoice.com and I also maintain two blogs – AuditioningForCollege.com and EdwardsVoice.Wordpress.com. You can also follow the Institute on Twitter @CCMInstitute and join our Facebook Group – The New CCM Voice Pedagogy Institute. Thank you for the interview and all of the excellent resources you are providing to our community.
P.S. Need help finding musical theatre repertoire to sing? Check out my professional repertoire guides here.