A number of years ago an article by Steven Demorest titled, “Encouraging Male Participation in Chorus” appeared in the Music Educators Journal. That article, which included a basic outline of a men’s festival at the University of Washington, would be the spark for what has become one of the largest annual gatherings of adolescent male singers in the United States, the Young Men’s Vocal Workshop at The University of Oklahoma.
Based on research, the literature on the topic, and personal experience, the Young Men’s Vocal Workshop’s main goals were created in 2006:
Provide an atmosphere where young men can have fun singing with other young men.
Allow these students to experience a measure of success as singers in a choral ensemble.
Provide positive male singing role models for younger males.
Changes have been made each year of the workshop in order to accommodate the needs of the participants. For example, the first year of the festival two choirs were offered, one for those with changed voices and one for those with unchanged voices. After having more than 600 students register different levels of choirs were created to keep the numbers manageable and make the experience outstanding for the students. Currently (2011) students are placed in one of four choirs: Unchanged Voices (grades 6-8), Changed and Changing Voices (grades 6-8) of which there are two sections, and a high school aged choir.
The event is planned with help from a committee of music education students (CMENC) at the university and on the day of the event a team of student volunteers run the entire event logistically. Members of the University of Oklahoma choral faculty serve as clinicians for the event each year, although one year when another clinician was needed, Dr. Terry Barham was invited as a guest clinician. In 2011 Dr. Timothy Sharp, Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association will be a guest conductor. Members of CMENC and student ACDA chapters are offered the chance to lead sectionals with groups of approximately 20 students at a time throughout the day. This gives college students real experience with young men’s voices and helps the young men in solidifying their parts.
Feeding 900 young men, their teachers, and student volunteers can be quite a task. Initially, Pizza, bottled water, and a “Real Men Sing” T—Shirt were included in the $8.00 registration fee for the event. But it quickly become evident that this was not enough to charge in order to break even financially. The cost of the event in 2010 was $17.00. Currently lunches consist of gourmet box lunches from a local chain deli, along with water, a T-Shirt, and a group picture. Taking a group picture of 900 young men is rather difficult! It was determined that the best option was to walk the students across campus to the football stadium. This was the only place within walking distance that had enough levels to accommodate so many students. A wonderful by-product is that this gets the students out of the building and gives them an opportunity to release some energy for about an hour in the middle of the day.