Interview with Lynne Gackle: Finding Ophelia’s Voice (Part 1 of 2) ACDA WA Summer Institute Headliner

Aimee Mell, Unison Editor

AM: You are a specialist on the adolescent female voice and your book Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart: Nurturing the Adolescent Female Voice has brought this conversation to the forefront. What led to your focus on this topic?

LG: Back in 1980 I was a young teacher in Miami, I ended up teaching at a small
parochial school.   I also answered an advertisement in the newspaper for another job to teach theory for the Miami Boychoir, which was directed by Paul Eisenhart. So I began teaching theory and working with thgacklee younger boychoir.  The organization also started a ‘little sister choir’ and Paul asked me be their conductor.  At first I wasn’t sure, but he said, “the group will only be limited by the mind of its conductor!” I was fresh out of LSU, what did I know? So, I took the job!

I remember the first rehearsal of girls (ages 8-12), and I thought: “This is the breathiest sound I’ve ever heard in my life!” I didn’t even know where to start.  So, I began to look for information and I found very little. After working with the group for 3-4 years I ended up taking them to a Southern Division ACDA conference in Birmingham, Alabama.  This was in 1982,  before the children’s choir movement had really started. In fact, I remember that Doreen Rao was at one of my sessions that I presented for MENC in 1984 and she was so encouraging!

In retrospect, the MENC conference in 1984 was important because it was the genesis for much of my study regarding the female adolescent voice.   When we were accepted to perform at the conference, the letter indicated that we were being invited to provide a 25 minute concert,  along with a 45 minute presentation on the adolescent female voice. I have no idea to this day who wrote that note, or anything about it, but I guess it was meant to be!

I had read John Cooksey’s work on the boy’s voice, so I called him (out of the ‘clear blue sky’) and he encouraged me to investigate the topic further. He said he also often got asked about young female voice, but he did not know much about it. Basically, there was very little information when I started working with the girls in this group. There was info on children choir’s from people like Helen Kemp, and boychoirs from pedagogues such as Frederick Swanson and Duncan MacKenzie, but nothing on girls’ voices.

I empirically began to take notes, and it wasn’t until I went to get my master’s and doctorate that I really started looking at the voice from a much broader viewpoint. In other words, I knew there was not literature on the this voice in music education research so I began to look outside of that realm at what voice scientists  had to say, as well as otolaryngolists and speech pathologists.  I also found specific connections with the onset of puberty and adolescent growth. This work begin with the doctorate, and it is something I have continued to study over the years.

AM: What do you feel are the most important outcomes and applications of your research?

I think this was the first time these things were written down regarding this young voice.  A lot of wonderful subsequent research has occurred, not just in this country, but abroad.   Much of the newer research cites the original work, so it provided a basis for further study.  In fact, my original work is in several textbooks and it wasn’t until I got back into higher education, that I realized that the little article I had written for the Choral Journal had been cited multiple times.  This just speaks to the fact that there was a need. I think that research is important as long as there is a need for that research. To do research for no reason is not enough.  If there is something that is truly interesting and needs to be studied, then there will be a continued need for it.

It might be interesting to note that I am also a French Horn player.  In fact, the person that I am speaking of in the beginning of my book, Finding Ophelia’s Voice is me. I was not allowed into the school choir in junior high because my voice was too breathy. It just didn’t fit. So I was encouraged to go to the band and pick up a wind instrument, which I did. But I also vividly remember the day when I realized that I was not good enough to get into the school choir. So one of the outcomes of this research, I hope, is that we don’t have young girls thinking that there is something wrong with them when in fact what’s going on is completely normal and  even predictable.  Actually, there is NOTHING at all wrong with these girls. Rather, certain things are going to happen when they go through voice change. And if we can help teachers and students understand what this is, they can deal with it better.

AM: Can you tell us a little about your background? What conductors or teachers inspired you to become a choral director?

LG: I always grew up with choral music, and I guess the church has been a huge influence on my love of singing and the choral art, in general. My parents were involved in church choirs and both sang in choirs in high school, so there was always a love of choral music in my home. I’m originally from Louisiana, so I went to LSU and then moved to Miami and got my master’s and doctorate from the University of Miami. So, suffice it to say that church is where I got my roots as far as choral singing goes. I was also fortunate to have come from a good high school program in Louisiana.  It was one of the better ones in the state at that time and I ended up on ‘the bench’ as a pianist. So a lot of my early indoctrination was as an accompanist/singer and not as a conductor. But as you know, piano skills serve us well as choral directors.

I initially went to LSU as pre-law major, and even though I loved music and missed it, at the time, I lacked the confidence to think I could actually do it for a living.  However,  after the first semester, it dawned on me that I didn’t belong in pre-law.  So I switched my major to choral music education. I’m not really even sure why, it just seemed like the thing I loved to do. I loved playing and singing, and it was just too much a part of my life.  All I knew is that I wanted to share that joy with others.

Having gone to LSU and the University of Miami, there were clearly people who influenced me.  My high school choral director, Dr. Lloydelle Herring and Dr. Victor Klimash,  my voice teacher and choral director at LSU were obvious influences on me as a student.   I also seemed to do a lot growing as a young conductor, after the fact – after leaving college.  You know, you get out of school and you get that first job and then you realize how much you don’t know! So I attended many  workshops and clinics.   Actually ADCA was a huge influence on me as a young teacher and really throughout my life. ACDA has offered so many workshops and opportunities for growth.  At the University of Miami, I served as the Graduate Assistant for Dr. Brian Busch (Founder of Bri-lee Music).  His love of the choral music AND pedagogy was a huge influence on me as a choral music educator.

For several summers I attended the Westminster Choir College Summer Programs.  There, I had the opportunity to work with icons such as Robert Shaw, Frauke Hassemann, Robert Page, Sir David Wilcocks, Joseph Flummerfelt and Alice Parker,  just to name a few.   I would have to  include Dr. Colleen Kirk (Professor of Choral Music Education at FSU), who was  from Florida and was National President of ADCA at one point was an encourager and mentor for me as a young teacher.   Paul Salamunovich has been a friend and mentor for years.  I’ve always  been so inspired by him and his work.  Of course, I’ve been blessed with many friends and colleagues through the years,  who continue to inspire me — I go and hear their choirs and see their programming and think, “Wow!”   I think we help each other ‘bump it up a notch’ and keep everything fresh.

Watch for Part 2 of our UNISON interview with ACDA WA Summer Institute headliner Lynne Gackle, and don’t forget to register for the Summer Institute by June 15 to assure that you get the music booklets (replacing our music packets).

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