Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A sneak peek into Douglas classes: Ear Training & Sight Singing III

By Tamara Letkeman

When I headed over to Joy Ollen's class, Music 2311 Ear Training & Sight Singing III, I wasn't sure what to expect. Beforehand Ollen had asked me if I knew much about music, and I told her the truth: no. (Full disclosure: a couple of years ago I learned how to play scales on the euphonium and eventually could blat out "St. James Infirmary," but that's where my musical instruction ends.)

Whether you're an aspiring rock guitarist or future diva who dreams of one day singing at the Met, as a Music student at Douglas you are required to take this third semester class, which hones the development of aural and sight singing skills. Ollen pointed out that most of the students in the class were in fact instrumentalists and not vocal majors, but that they needed to learn how to use their voice "as a tool." Ollen says the voice is the one instrument that musicians always carry with them, and it is a convenient means of communicating musical ideas.

The students warmed up by practising sight singing through hand signs, a series of movements that illustrate the "solfege" syllables (do re mi fa so la ti do) and represent pitch. Next, in a battle of the sexes, the men were pitted against the women during "Quick Reaction" rhythm drills, where students had to chant the right rhythm patterns as Ollen pointed to them on the white board.

But my favourite part was during the introduction to chromaticism, where the students were invited to sing along to “La Habanera,” from Carmen, and then figure out the solfege syllables by ear. I won't pretend I understand the meaning of "chromaticism” (not even after looking it up in the dictionary), but I'm a sucker for opera, and loved hearing the strains of the soprano’s voice as they filled the room, and was even able to somewhat follow along.

As a second-year course in the University-transfer Bachelor of Music program, Ear Training & Sight Singing III is for advanced students of Music. But even I, who stopped my music studies in junior high, could appreciate, and even follow, many of the concepts Ollen was teaching.

Find out more about Douglas College's Music Program here.

Tamara Letkeman has not been in a classroom for a number of years. She is braving the waves to give readers a glimpse into some of the awesome classes that Douglas offers.