The Association for Popular Music Education is the new kid on the block in music organizations. I was very excited to find them in my search for popular music resources. After finding very little in terms of popular-music-related content at NAfME, ACDA, and NATS conferences, I decided to check out APME’s conference, which was at The University of Colorado Denver. It was their most well-attended conference yet, and there was a huge increase in the participation of singing and choir teachers in particular. Almost every voice professional who attended also presented. I loved seeing that, as a group, we’re eager to share and contribute as well as learn in this field. Here were the voice-related sessions:
- Pitch Navigation as the Singer’s GPS: Rethinking Traditional Pitch Instruction Methods for Straight-Tone Singing in Commercial Voice Teaching • Mindy Damon (Liberty University)
- Make New Friends, but Keep the Old: Innovation and Preservation through Musical Theatre • Elizabeth Ann Benson (Auburn University)
- The Refugee Choir Project: Bringing Diverse Communities Together Through Music • Erin Guinup (Independent Studio)
- Sing Your Way Through Theory • Kris Adams (Berklee)
- How to Improvise Pop Songs with Your Choir • Marc Silverberg (Five Towns College)
- Developing Critical Thinking in the Private Contemporary Voice Studio • Kat Reinhert (University of Miami)
- Musicianship for the Commercial Vocalist • Kate Paradise (Belmont University)
- The Science of Commercial Sound • Karen Kitterman (California College of Music)
- Explore the Extremes to Master the Middle • Jess Baldwin (Independent Studio)
One of the findings in the studies I did with Kat Reinhert and Matt Edwards about collegiate popular-commercial music programs was that voice teachers in these programs want more training in subjects beyond vocal pedagogy: music and recording technology, songwriting, music business and industry, popular-commercial music theory and ear-training, popular-commercial ensemble leading, etc. We also found that the vast majority of administrators of these programs also want to see more training among voice teachers in these areas. There were TONS of sessions at APME on these topics, taught by leading educators from across the US and UK. While a 45-minute session doesn’t necessarily constitute “training,” the sessions can certainly inform the kinds of training we can and should pursue if we’re teaching this music. I came away with great new tools for group singing improv, an intro to a new-to-me app called Soundtrap, a crash course in the Nashville number system, some ah-ha moments regarding marginalized communities and popular music, a long list of books to read and tools to try, and more clarity on how I want to spend my time with my students.
I was particularly struck by the prevalence of music creation and student autonomy in these teachers’ classrooms and studios. Students are writing A LOT of songs. They’re singing, playing multiple instruments, recording, mixing, gigging. They’re deeply involved in music choices and curriculum design, with teachers acting more as facilitators than directors. It was incredibly inspiring to see how excited and empowered the students felt about making music.
I’m looking forward to seeing professionals in this community take information to conferences like NAfME, ACDA, and NATS. My observation is that teachers in all of those organizations are hungry for CCM-related sessions, and I would love to see more popular-music-related sessions in particular alongside the musical theatre and jazz sessions.
If you’d like more information about the conference and what it was like, I’m sure any of the teachers listed above would be happy to share their experience with you. In particular, you can contact Kat Reinhert, who is now the Vice-President of APME.