VOCES8 has won an international reputation as a leading vocal ensemble, but its members are as passionate about education as they are about putting on a stellar show. Founding member Paul Smith developed and wrote a book on their particular style of education, “The VOCES8 Method,” which uses musical exercises to stimulate brain development and get participants more focused and engaged. The method has been put into practice in hundreds of schools, but it can be used in a multitude of different environments.
During the 21CMposium at DePauw University, Paul Smith gave a demonstration of the VOCES8 Method, leading the audience in a series of impromptu performances. Through rhythmic exercises, improvisations and even an interactive rendition of Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal,” Smith reveals how the method can make music education more inclusive and encouraging of personal creativity.
On how inclusivity and creativity are essential for music education…
What I want to talk to you about today is linking practical ways to get into music education. [I have] two ideas. The first idea is inclusivity. What we did with those first two rhythms – we started with rhythm, and we started with something that had a nice bit of brain activity as well, to begin to stimulate us. Just because we’re trying to be inclusive doesn’t mean we don’t want to challenge people to be better. So all the time we’re trying to find this balance between keeping the fast students engaged but also making sure there’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved.
The second idea is creativity. How do you find a simple way to engage people? If I had an hour with a group of teenagers, you’d probably say, well, they’re not going to like classical music. Actually, you find a way through. [It’s about] speaking to them as adults, as people who have their own opinion, and persuading them otherwise. We have to embrace that creativity and we have to work out how we have a dialogue.
On the need to tackle issues arising from money, time and fear…Inclusivity [across disparate communities] can happen so much better if we can get rid of three things that I think are problems.
1) Money. We have to make a living. Young people are thinking, how am I going to be a professional musician? What am I going to do? It’s a big issue. Socially, we have to think [about] how we deal with the issues with lack of funding in music education.
2) Time. I only have 21 minutes [for this talk]. That’s sometimes more than people get in their musical curriculum. Certainly in the U.K. there are real issues with how much time is given to music. So how do we overcome that?
3) Fear. How do we overcome the fear that we have to join in? That we have to stick up our hand and ask a question? That we have to stand on stage and do something? The fear that someone might have to sing in public is something I come across in my job a lot. It’s not about saying, “I’m afraid of something so I’m not going to do it.” It’s about finding a way to embrace that fear and finding a way to move past it.
The above excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.