Guiding Principles for Singers

In Utah Voice’s 2014-2015 season, Dr. Michael Huff introduced new and veteran members alike to a set of guiding principles for singers.

While singing of any sort is certainly fun, only quality music can achieve what legendary conductor Eph Ehly calls the ethereal:

Eph Ely

“Music belongs to that realm of the intangible. In it we can reach the domain of the ethereal. It’s a very light, abstruse and rarified place. Music is, after all, a product of one’s imagination. It’s given birth in the imagination of the composer, then re-created by the performer, and ultimately comprehended by the listener. However, if the music is interrupted by human error due to the performer’s technical frailty, then it’s as if gravity pulls us back down into our earthbound state. It interrupts our ascent toward perfection.”

Two of the concepts that Dr. Huff introduced to help eliminate that potential “technical frailty” were “bel canto” vocal tone and the acronym “VIBED” (Vocal quality, Intonation, Blend, Ensemble, Diction).

Bel Canto

Bel canto literally means “beautiful singing,” which seems like a pretty good place to start for Ehly’s “ascent toward perfection.” Dr. Huff’s keys for bel canto are:

  • Create a supported and controlled air stream by sitting up straight and using your abdominal and intercostal muscles (between the ribs).
  • Maintain healthy vibrating surfaces (vocal chords). Stay well hydrated and don’t get sick!
  • Utilize flexible resonators – we use the soft palate, jaw and lips to add and adjust vocal resonance


Next, the choir needs to get VIBED! If each member of the chorus can remember this acronym – and actually follow it – the musical quality and audience experience will soar.

Vocal quality – Does it sound appealing? Is it “right” for the music?
Intonation – Is it in tune? (This is a yes or no question.)
Blend – Are any voices “sticking out” of the vocal texture?
Ensemble – Is it together?
Diction – Can we understand what’s being sung?

This all may sound like a lot of work – and it is.  As Dr. Huff has written, “The entire process of achieving excellence in musical performance requires an undeviating personal commitment, exemplified by the conductor, and shared by every singer.”

And Robert Shaw agrees. “First (and last),” he said, “it seems to me that we have to agree that only the best is good enough.”

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