Be Careful of What You Say
Ricardo Ipina


            Several years ago at the start of my teaching career, I was hired as a choral director for the Valdosta City School System, and my post was at Valdosta High School.  It was my second teaching assignment, for I had two years of teaching experience at another district under my belt.


            As a new teacher to the school and fairly new to the profession, I was eager to get EVERYTHING just right.


            I was teaching in a very small room.  Actually, it was a spacious closet that had been converted to a classroom, spacious for a closet but not for a classroom.  It was toward the middle of the first six weeks, and I was busy preparing my ninth-grade all-girls choir for our first concert together.


            The song we were preparing on this particular day, “Rain, Rain,” had a very difficult passage which incorporated the concepts we were studying: vowel placement, sound focus, breath control, and vertical syllable formation.  In order to assist the girls in singing the passage well, we took it out of context and scrutinized it for the source of difficulty.


            “What do you think is the problem?” I asked.


            “It’s hard!” they answered.


            “Besides being hard, what about it do you think makes it difficult?”


            Almost at once they offered the following concerns, “I can’t sing that high.”  “I can’t get enough of a breath to sing the high note.” “It sounds weird when I shape my mouth vertically.” “I can’t sing vertically.” “I can’t hold the note for that long.”


            After spending a few moments deconstructing the passage, it was determined that the passage was plagued by numerous problems.  The passage began on a high note, there was no opportunity for a deep breath prior to it, and it was to be sustained.  Once the source of the problems were identified and solutions discussed, we proceeded with our rehearsal.


            Everything was going splendidly until we reached the aforementioned passage.  I was optimistic.  Surely after spending ten minutes discussing the passage and its problems the girls would remember to apply all solutions.  The lyrics at this point started with the preposition “as” on a high note.  In everyday speech the word is formed in a horizontal space but to get maximum sound and an understandable word the desired vowel formation when singing is a long, vertical shape.


            As they sang the high note, more than half the choir sang a horizontal rather than a vertical shape.  Out of frustration and before I could stop myself, I very pointedly said: "Girls, don't spread the 'as' so wide!"  which to them sounded like “Girls, don’t spread the ‘ASS’ so wide!” Of course this request shocked the girls for an instant, but their shock soon gave way to gales of laughter.  In retrospect, it was funny, but at the moment I was mortified, and all I wanted to do was to be able to disappear, to escape the confines of this now very uncomfortably hot, confining room!  A new male teacher tells his choir not to spread the "as" so wide!  After that incident I decided to drop the piece to avoid any more misconstrued requests.


            Since then I have matured and have learned a lot.  One of the most important lessons of my teaching career so far:  Be careful of what you say.