- The Oxford Handbook of Choral Pedagogy ed. by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head
In this book, editors Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head present a jumping-off point, if not a definition, for choral pedagogy. They acknowledge that the volume is not exhaustive or conclusive, an odd description considering its length, its number of chapters, and the array of topics it covers. To my knowledge, this handbook is peerless: while there are many books that focus more narrowly on rehearsal techniques or building a successful choral program, this volume distinguishes itself by addressing a wide range of current issues in choral pedagogy. In their introduction, [End Page 142] the editors refer to the landmark publication by Harold A. Decker and Julius Herford, Choral Conducting: A Symposium (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1973), which covered the state of choral pedagogy at that time and is likely the only other volume to attempt this scope. A particular chapter by Howard Swan, "The Development of a Choral Instrument," identified and explained six different American choral schools of thought (Choral Conducting, pp. 4–55). I remember the curiosity I felt as an undergraduate music education student when I discovered this chapter: It presented to me different philosophies on producing lovely, healthy choral sound and provided some guidance on how to apply the theory in rehearsals. While this new Oxford Handbook shares some content with the Decker and Herford volume—mentions of luminary conductors, developing tone quality, and rehearsal preparation strategies, to name a few—its true contribution is its coverage of current issues like critical pedagogy, informal music learning, and constructivism.
The book has twenty-seven chapters organized into two broad and sensible sections: "Theory," which discusses traditional and emerging philosophies of choral music education, and "Practice," which presents practitioners' views of the current state of choral music. This arrangement is, of course, purposeful, as the editors seek to present balance and connection between guiding principles and what people might choose to do with them. These two large sections are each made up of three more specific subsections: "Theory" includes "Challenging Traditional Paradigms," "Construction of Identity and Meaning," and "World Perspectives"; "Practice" explores "Repertoire as Pedagogy," "Teaching and Conducting Diverse Populations," and "Choral Pedagogy and the Voice." While this clear structure makes it relatively easy for a reader to browse the book for a particular topic, the book's index is helpfully detailed and comprehensive.
In the opening chapter ("Critical Pedagogy as Choral Pedagogy") of the "Challenging Traditional Paradigms" subsection, Abrahams suggests a critical approach to pedagogy in choral education as an alternative or accompaniment to a more traditional model centered on the conductor. He provides background on critical pedagogy on a need-to-know level, including a helpful discussion of core issues like marginalization, power, politics, and agency. He grounds this overview with his own experiences by offering strategies conductors can use to practice critical pedagogy in the rehearsal room and ends the chapter with a detailed rehearsal-plan template that asks the conductor to consider learning goals, process, and assessment for each piece. Patrice Madura Ward-Steinman's chapter on the effect of shows like Glee and movies like Pitch Perfect on choral pedagogy ("Choral Pedagogy Responds to the Media") reveals a wide spectrum of opinions from choral educators along with predictable pros (increased interest and enrollment in choral programs) and cons (unrealistic expectations from students on the amount of time and effort needed to create a successful product; elevation of unhealthy vocal production). She uses a variety of methods—asking for opinions from a Facebook group for the American Choral Directors Association, surveying directors of top-ranked show choirs in Indiana, and reviewing forty pop choral arrangements used in the shows—to study the effect of these shows on choral programs and how choral pedagogy should respond. Head's chapter ("The Choral Experience: Turned Inside Out") is a thoughtful and somewhat catchall consideration of...