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Paynesville Press - March 12, 2003

Students learn from artist-in-residence

By Jennifer E. Johnson

Warming up with Claire - photo by Jennifer E. Johnson Choral students at Paynesville Area High School had the opportunity to work with an artist-in-residence last week.

Claire Campbell-Tokar, who first came to PAHS in 1995 through a grant from the Minnesota Arts Board, spent the week working with the choirs and individual students.

Members of the sixth grade choir experimented with posture and different voice techniques last week with artist-in-residence, Claire Campbell-Tokar. Using props like a miniature skeleton and a toy blowfish, she demonstrated the mechanics of breathing to students.

Campbell-Tokar stressed the importance of diction, posture, and breathing to improve voice tone and quality to choirs at the elementary school, middle school, and high school. With the sixth grade choir, for example, Campbell-Tokar guided students through posture and voice exercises to demonstrate the mechanics of breathing.

"My approach with the students is that singing is like a sport," said Campbell-Tokar. Like sports, she explained, singers will gain more control over their voices through training and practice.

Campbell-Tokar also met individually with over 70 high school students to answer questions, critique their performances, and suggest pointers for improvement. Since PAHS is hosting a solo and ensemble choir competition on Monday, March 17, Campbell-Tokar couldn't have come at a better time for contest participants.

Choir director Cheryl Bungum videotaped the one-on-one lessons in part to help students prepare for next week's competition and also to use as a resource in the future. "It's a good way to get a little extra help," said Bungum.

In written comments about the experience, high school students were generally positive and many wished they would have had more time with Campbell-Tokar. "I will be hearing Claire's voice in my head as I sing my solo," wrote sophomore Ashley Spanier.

Junior Trista Bork - photo by Jennifer E. Johnson Junior Ben Lingl agreed that the techniques he learned will help him during the competition. "I will be able to use more ideal breathing methods for singing," he wrote, "so the sound should be better."

During an individual lesson Claire Campbell-Tokar, an artist-in-residence at PAHS, helps junior Trista Bork with her song for competition.

Her lesson with Campbell-Tokar helped junior Heidi Olmscheid see the difference that correct posture can make. "I'm more aware of my posture now and how I hold myself," she wrote. "I noticed a lot that I'm able to get through phrases and have better tone quality."

"My posture will be taller, my voice stronger, and my confidence better," wrote junior Amanda Burlingame of her experience.

Campbell-Tokar wants her lessons to be positive experiences for students of all abilities. "Sometimes students have had an insensitive teacher who told them that they couldn't carry a tune," she said. "As a teacher," she continued, "it's not important to me whether or not they have talent. I just want them to come away feeling better than they did before the lesson."

Campbell-Tokar has come to PAHS three times since her first visit due to the fundraising efforts of the choir.

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