Voces8: Helping the next generation

08.13.14
VOCES8
Minnesota Public Radio

By Elena See

St. Paul, Minn. — Voces8 are an ensemble made up of eight very distinctive voices and personalities. One thing the ensemble members have in common, however, is their shared belief in the importance of music education.

Brothers Barney and Paul Smith, two founding members of Voces8, decided early on that education needed to be an important part of the group's mission.

Here's what Paul has to say:

"Really when we started the group properly after those competitions in 2006 and 2007, we really wanted education to be at the core of what we're doing …

"All of us were very lucky growing up to be part of great choirs and to have some fantastic teachers. We really see it as our responsibility to be trying to help the next generation in any way that we can. And so now we have a very active education program that really runs very broadly. We work from the most junior children — I suppose it would be 'kindergarten' in America, 'reception' over here — right the way through to working with university students and young professionals.

"And we absolutely love being in that education setting to the point that we've actually just this year set up our center for vocal excellence and outreach in the heart of the City of London called the Gresham Centre, which is a beautiful church by Sir Christopher Wren, which was actually empty last year, and so the Diocese of London came to us and they'd heard about the education work that we were doing, and they asked us if we'd like to take on this initiative in partnership with them and try to make this space a vibrant space for music and for vocal music to really be happening in this central London location.

"We obviously said 'yes,' and it's been an absolute joy to really launch the Gresham Centre, but wherever we go, and we've done actually a lot of residencies in the US as well; we try to get an element of education into whatever setting we're in. We figure that we're so lucky to be onstage doing the performance side of things that we want to share that with as many people as possible, and whatever shape or size the classroom takes, we think it's a great space to be sharing our learning with other people."

The Gresham Centre website provides even more information about what Paul and Voces8 are doing there.

A couple of years ago, Paul created the Voces8 Method, an instruction book and video series aimed toward music teachers and anyone else who might be interested in learning about music. The idea, Paul says, is that anyone who wants to can easily learn more about music. He explains:

"The Voces8 Method was really a key partner of that education program. There's a fantastic paper by Professor Susan Hallam over here at the Institute of Education in London. She published it in 2009; it's called 'The Power of Music' and it talks about all of the different types of research that have been done linking music with the transfer into other types of learning.

"What I wanted to do after I read that, I thought it was such an inspiring paper, that I wanted to come up with a practical response to it that could be used in any setting, so we published the Voces8 Method last year, and I think now somewhere between 500 and 1,000 schools have taken it up, and we're doing a big push at the ACDA, the American Choral Directors Association, in February next year, and really trying to launch it into America as well, because we think it's so important to show how music can have a positive impact on learning, and the whole idea of the book is that it links with numeracy, literacy and linguistics, but then also taps into ideas of self-confidence and teamwork as well.

"So all of the ideas in the book and the videos are designed actually to be able to be learned by anybody; it's really written so that whatever your musical capability, you can learn how to do this. And it's a real sort of eye-opener into layer building, so each individual part of the Voces8 Method actually is very simple to learn with a little bit of practice, and we have the online videos and the book, which help support that learning, and we run a lot of training courses for it as well.

"But then once you combine all of these different parts that you begin to learn over the course of a school year, you end up with this multi-layered musical extravaganza happening, that creates lots of layers of vocal percussion, of different clapping rhythms, a little bit of singing — and so without really realizing it, the teachers are beginning to introduce the students to a whole world of music, and we try to make sure lots of different parts of music from around the world are put in to the method.

"But then the by-product, the thing we're really trying to show as a way to support the music teacher when they're talking about music in their school setting, is that actually the benefit comes … the students, by doing these activities, are really thinking about the left-right brain coordination and connection and lots of different facets of learning that hopefully then help them with their lessons throughout the school day.

"So the idea really is it's a start of the school day that gets everybody making music and having fun, but that the benefits can be seen across the whole of school life."

That's Paul Smith, a founding member of Voces 8 and creator of the Voces 8 Method, which could be coming soon to a school near you!

Learn more about Voces8's commitment to education on the ensemble's website.