by Marcus King

My name is Marcus King. This is my first year with Memphis Music Initiative and I highlight this as one the best years I’ve spent as a teacher. This is due to the wonderful students I get to teach and mentor at Cordova High School and Southwind High School in Memphis. The main aspect of my experience in these school centers around one on one voice lessons with the students. My biggest project this year has been getting ready for Solo and Ensemble Festival for the West Tennessee Vocal Music Educators Association.  I would like to share my journey thus far in the program and how this journey has enriched my life.

What spurred me to focus on solo repertoire at these school was seeing the need for someone to work on specific vocal issues/goals facing the students. I asked the question, “How do I fit within this choral program and what are their needs?”. I also wanted to plant the same seeds that were planted in me as a teenager who sang his first solo in 9th grade and heard the cheers of the crowd afterwards. I was a quiet kid and did not think I had anything to offer anyone. Singing gave me a voice. So I got busy taking the students in one by one and asking them what inspires them to be a singer and what would they like to do with their voice. I wanted to point out to them that they have a voice individually speaking and it needs to be heard. The festival is basically a competition with oneself. Each student goes into a room and sing their piece and they are adjudicated and rated by a vocal professional. I loved how enthusiastic every student was about participating in this endeavor.

With me the students have learned and are learning not only that they have a voice but how to use it to effect their audience. I teach them vocal techniques such as breath support and vowel placement not for its own sake but to show them how those things aid them in conveying an emotion they want to express. As they have adopted these skills and seen the results by the reactions of me and their audiences, be it their other classmates they sing for in a class recital or professional in the business, I’m seeing a light and deeper self confidence in their eyes. That is so rewarding for me to see such positive reinforcement.

My major challenge has been accommodating everyone. I service a lot of students and time as we all know is very limited. Time management has been a skill I’ve had to polish this year. In servicing these students some need more help with their confidence than others. I noticed one student at Cordova who struggled a lot vocally but has slowly approved and this year received her highest score to date when she auditioned for the All West Tennessee Honor Choir in the fall. She not the top student in class, but I have witnessed her steadily improve over the year. Her choir teacher even complimented her in front all the top students in the class noting her growth. I have seen this young lady’s confidence grow steadily.

The main piece of advice I would give anyone who wants to open a private studio in a high school choral program is listen to the students and don’t assume you what they need. Yes, the fundamentals of singing and expression one should always teach but find out what they want to do with their voice. Some would like to sing classical and others want to go into pop and jazz music. Do your best to connect with their desires and dreams. Do your best to connect with want they want to express with their voice. Then they will be more prone to take ownership in what they do and your studio will be more effective. I’ve seen this happen plenty this year and look forward to continuing in that vein next year. It’s not lost on me the trials many of our students have to face outside of school and in school. Singing is a powerful tool they can use to show the world they are here and they matter. I wish all of them the best.