Tenets of the Cambiata Concept

The approach to the changing voice that has received the greatest exposure, acceptance, and application world-wide is the Cambiata Concept researched, devised, and promulgated by Irvin Cooper, Professor of Music Education at Florida State University 1950-1970. This is true for two reasons. First, Cooper supported his ideas with a choral literature of octavos and booklets that were used by thousands of adolescent singers in middle-level and high schools throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time a specialty publishing company, Cambiata Press, has received wide acceptance nationally by producing music based on the tenets of the Cambiata Concept.  Second, Cooper trained several disciples who have been prominent in providing workshops nationally since his death in 1971.  They have kept his concept alive by promoting its use in secondary schools and churches as well as by seeing it promulgated by various universities throughout the nation. The concept has been a part of the music education and church music scenes for fifty years or more.

Born in England, Cooper came to Canada after college to teach public-school music. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Manchester, then worked for fifteen years in Montreal as a high school choral and instrumental director. During his forties he became supervisor of music for the entire Montreal system and finished his doctorate at McGill University, where he later taught as director of the McGill University Orchestra and the University Choral and Operatic Society. During his years as supervisor of music; he became involved with early-adolescent singers and changing-voice problems. While supervising middle-level classrooms; he became aware that most of the boys were not singing but instead were having a study period during music class. This lack of involvement in music by the young singers led him to investigate ways in which their participation could be improved. Ultimately he engaged in an in-depth study of early-adolescent voices.
He soon determined that the young men could sing completely throughout vocal mutation as long as they sang music written in accordance to their unique range and tessitura limitations. He felt that no attempt should be made to make the voice fit already existing music but that the music should be made to fit the voice.

Cooper devoted the last thirty years of his life to dealing with the early-adolescent voice.  Eventually, he was to see his ideas promulgated throughout thirty states, Canada, England, France, Russia, Brazil, Japan, and Hungary during his lifetime. His publications include twenty-two books of song collections arranged for changing voices; Letters to Pat, a professional book for middle-level school music teachers; Teaching Junior High School Music , a college textbook; The Reading Singer, a sight-reading method for adolescents; and a sound-color movie, The Changing Voice, which was a blue-ribbon winner at the American Film Festival. At the time of his death in 1971, he was chairman of the International Research Committee for the Study of Changing Voice Phenomena with the International Society of Music Education and he was establishing laboratory studies in England, Russia, and Japan. His tenure of twenty years as professor of music at Florida State University has produced students and disciples who are spread throughout the United States, Europe, and South America.

He took the term cambiata from the theoretical terminology cambiata nota; meaning changing note, and adapted it to cambiata voce; or changing voice. In the United States the term "cambiata concept" is recognized as a method of dealing with boys' changing voices and originally it was indeed limited to that area. However, since Cooper's death, it has grown to encompass much more than that.  As described in the book The Cambiata Concept , it has been fashioned into a comprehensive philosophy and methodology of teaching choral music to adolescents.

Cooper worked with and classified over 114,000 adolescent voices in his lifetime.  From his research, the research of many of his disciples, and that great wealth of practical experience contributed by him and his disciples, the following tenets pertaining to adolescent voices have emerged.

Cooper believed that adolescent girls should not be classified as sopranos and altos but should be considered as having equal voices. He called them the blues and the greens to achieve this equality.

He indicated that there are four types of boys' voices in middle-level schools: (1) boys' unchanged voices, whom he called sopranos; (2) boys in the first phase of change, or cambiatas (the plural form of cambiata is cambiate; but it is accepted practice to refer to a group of these boys as cambiatas); (3) boys in the second phase of change, or baritones; and (4) boys with changed voices, whom he called basses (he considered the adolescent bass voice to be rare, appearing only occasionally at the middle-level school age).

Ranges for these voices are: Girls and Boy Trebles, B flat (below middle C) upwardly to F (top line, treble clef); Cambiata (1st phase of change), F (below middle C) upwardly to C (third space, treble clef); and Baritones (2nd phase of change), B flat (second line, bass clef) upwardly to F (above middle C).

He warned that it is a gross error to assume that every voice in each category precisely fits the prescribed range boundaries. It is safe to assume that 90 percent of the singers in each category can maneuver vocally within the appropriate ranges designated above.

He further restricted the vocal parts by indicating that the music to be sung by adolescent singers should stay within a more comfortable area, which he called the singing tessitura. Tessitura is that portion of the vocal range in which it is comfortable to sing for a considerable length of time without tiring. He indicated that brief vocal excursions outside the tessitura can be very effective, but if the general line of any song lies outside the tessitura, vocal strain results. The following shows the tessitura within individual part ranges: Girls and Boy Trebles, D (above middle C) upwardly to D (fourth line, treble clef); Cambiata, A (below middle C) upwardly to A (2nd space, treble clef); Baritones, D (third line, bass clef) upwardly to D (above middle C).
Cooper discouraged unison and unison-octave singing in middle-level schools. When one examines a composite of all the ranges, it becomes apparent that in order to have successful unison or unison-octave singing one must choose a song with a compass of D (above middle C for girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas -- one octave lower for baritones) up to A (second space, treble clef, for girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas) if the singers are to stay within the comfortable singing area of their voices.  The baritones have a bit more flexibility (they can sing D, third line in the bass clef, up to D above middle C in the bass clef) when singing an octave lower than the girls, boy trebles, and cambiatas who will be singing in unison in the octave above.
When boys sing in unison, such as in the widely-used voicing Soprano, Alto, Boys (SAB), they are limited to a tessitura of A (top line, bass clef) up to D (directly above middle C).  This limited range makes it very difficult for the cambiatas because it keeps them in the lower extremities of their vocal range, and it is difficult for the baritones because they must sing exclusively in the upper extremities of their vocal range.  None of the boys can sing comfortably when singing in unison which obviously results in tensive singing.

Cooper avoided individual voice testing on the basis that if given the opportunity, a young man will choose the most comfortable singing area of the voice; thus literally classifying himself. Cooper believed that another important reason for not using individual voice testing was that it was vitally important for the student to have an exciting singing experience on the first day of class or in the first meeting period. Time did not allow for individual testing. He wanted the students to leave the classroom after a thirty to fifty-minute session having experienced four-part singing, which would certainly excite them about singing for the rest of the year. Through a special group-classification procedure  and by rote teaching of melodically oriented songs, he was able to achieve that goal.

After he classified the voices, he was ready to teach a four-part (soprano I, soprano II, cambiata and baritone) song to everyone. Each part was taught by rote from a song chosen from one of his melody-part style song booklets. In no more than forty or fifty minutes, he had classified all the voices and taught the group to sing a four-part song successfully. This usually proved to be an exciting time for the young singers. Often they were unable to believe that they could be singing four-part music so easily and quickly.

To describing the timbre, or vocal quality, of the cambiata voice, Cooper used the term "wooly."  He said cambiata voices are rich, undeniably masculine almost to the point of belligerency, and truly beautiful if the sound is controlled in volume and not permitted to become strident from sheer vocal exuberance. A perfect example of this sound may be heard in the very early recordings of Wayne Newton, the popular singer of a few years back.

Cooper was concerned that teachers might misclassify the cambiata voice because of an aural illusion of its sounding an octave lower than is actually the case. He called this the octave aural illusion, which is due to the richness and depth of the tone quality. If cambiata voices are misclassified and required to sing a baritone, or bass part, which actually will sound one octave higher than written, the resulting sound is quite unpleasant.

Cooper warned against placing the cambiata on a tenor part in Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (SATB) music. In his view, the tenor part is too low, just as the alto part is too high for the cambiatas. They need a special part written specifically for them.
In providing literature for young adolescent singers Cooper used a technique he called melody-part style writing. If one is particularly partial to harmonically oriented music, an approach favored by many of the composers and arrangers of music used in American schools, one may object to Cooper's style because of the cross-voicing, equal female parts, and contrapuntal voice leading. Cooper's style ensures that each part will be interesting for the singer, but more important, each young singer will be able to take advantage of the melodic characteristics of the music to remember the part and be secure in four-part singing. Often in harmonically oriented music, students attempting part singing finish the song by singing the original melody instead of their intended part. If the students have a part to sing that is, in fact, a melody, their ability to stay with it to the end is greatly increased. Cooper was willing to sacrifice a typical, homophonic sound for what to him was a greater educational purpose in writing.
Another significant consideration was the importance of choosing music appropriate for the young baritone voice and some cambiatas with their inability to articulate at an increased tempo. Melismatic passages should not be chosen for these boys to sing. Further, any part that requires an inordinate amount of articulation at an increased tempo should also be avoided.
Finally, and most important, it was imperative from Cooper's standpoint that middle-level school singers perform music written specifically for them. As mentioned, he discouraged placing cambiatas on a tenor part, because the tessitura was too low, or on the alto, because the tessitura was too high. He adamantly discouraged choosing Soprano, Alto, Baritone (SAB) music for these young singers because, he maintained, there was no part for the cambiatas to sing. Adult female parts are often too high or have a compass too wide for comfortable singing by adolescent females, and the same application can be made to bass parts for young baritones, particularly in the lower extremities of the voice.
 
THE CAMBIATA INSTITUTE OF AMERICA FOR EARLY ADOLESCENT VOCAL MUSIC
In the spring of 1979, eight years after Cooper's death, Don L. Collins founded Cambiata Vocal Music Institute of America and incorporated it as a nonprofit, state-chartered educational institution. Dr. Collins served as founder/director of the Institute until 2009.  He was a student of Cooper's at Florida State University from 1967 to 1970 while working on his doctorate.  Near the end of Cooper's tenure (he retired in 1971), he was chatting informally with Collins and another graduate student and the subject of the future of the concept surfaced. Almost as if he were moved by divine guidance, Cooper somberly stated, "If the concept is to remain alive over the next several decades, it may well be left up to one of you."  Mysteriously, door after door opened over the next thirty years that not only kept the concept alive but also allowed it to be proliferated to thousands of music educators and church musicians throughout the world.  On April 23, 2009, the Institute found a new home.  It is now The Cambiata Vocal Institute of America for Early Vocal Music Education under the auspices of the College of Music at the University of North Texas in Denton.  At that time Dr. Collins stepped down as the director and Dr. Alan McClung, Associate Professor of Choral Music Education at UNT became the new Executive Director.

The primary purpose of the institute is to train music educators in the comprehensive philosophy and methodology of the Cambiata Concept by providing a sound basis for teaching vocal music to adolescents. Following are the basic tenets of the concept promoted by the institute:

* Music is a discipline and should be taught as such. Through structured curriculum individuals are taught (1) to understand and respond to the written language of music, (2) to sing with ease and beauty through proper vocal-choral technique, and (3) to communicate the message of the text and aural musical sound in an artistic and stylistic fashion.
 
* Vocal music is a gift or an innate ability of all humans and through discipline it can be developed into a meaningful art form that heightens one's ability to judge the aesthetic value of certain life experiences.
 
* The four ingredients in music -- melody, rhythm, harmony, and form (particularly harmony) -- should be experienced as an aural art before one learns to deal with them in written form.
 
* The study of music not only prepares one for professional service but also, more important, develops sensitive, artistic individuals with a greater ability to deal with life situations successfully.
 
* Americans have an extensive music heritage that is disclosed in many facets. Vocalists should be able to experience and express themselves in as many of these as possible.
The term "music educator" immediately brings to mind training of teachers for service in the public schools. The scope of the Cambiata Institute encompasses more than public schools. It administers in five major areas:
*PUBLIC AND PRIVATE-SCHOOL MUSIC EDUCATION:  This is the traditional teacher-training area.
 
* CHURCH MUSIC EDUCATION: The safeguard of the country's church music heritage lies in teaching adolescents to express their faith in song. Ministers of music, church choir directors, organists, and so forth hold the key to that security, and they should be trained to cherish that responsibility and carry the torch high.
 
* PRIVATE VOCAL STUDIOS: Because of the increase of privately funded elementary and secondary schools each year, the trend of the twenty-first century will be toward each family's funding their child's education. One will see more and more private music studios being founded.
 
* THE BOY CHOIR TRADITION: There are very few institutions of higher education in the United States that specifically train directors of boy choirs. It is part of the American choral tradition that is becoming less and less active and it should be preserved.
 
* PROFESSIONAL EARLY-ADOLESCENT CHORAL SINGING: This area includes the training of choral directors so that they may develop their adolescent choirs to such a high level of performance that they may serve the needs of private business and entertainment on a professional basis.
Specific activities of the institute since its founding include sponsoring several hundred vocal-choral music workshops in thirty-one states throughout the United States and overseas.
Dr. Alan McClung has delineated the following comprehensive projects as the future aspirations of the institute:

  • To establish a revenue-generating honor choir camp for students in grades 7 and 8 on the campus of the University of North Texas.
  • To initiate, in connection with the honor choir camp, a teacher-training program leading to a Certificate in Early-Adolescent Vocal Music.                                
  • To seek external funding (summer choir camp, workshop honoraria and fees, external gifts, and grants) to promote and support the Institute’s interests.
  • To recruit music educators interested in graduate studies with a concentration in choral music education for early-adolescents at the middle school level.
  • To fund a graduate teaching assistant position to address needs related to the Institute’s interests, goals, objectives, initiatives, and projects.
  • To develop and maintain the Institute’s website through the cooperation of the UNT College of Music.
  • To promote peer-reviewed research publications (hard copy and on-line) that are related specifically to the interests of choral music educators who work with early-adolescent students.
  • To encourage the publication of quality materials specifically related to improving instruction in the middle level choral music classroom. 
  • To encourage the composition of high quality choral and solo literature for early-adolescent singers.
  • To facilitate the above by sponsoring The Cambiata Composition Project, a national level choral composition competition for 2-part and 3-part choral literature for the male changing  voice. Five years of competition would yield 25 winning compositions published by as a choral anthology by Cambiata Press.
  • To promote the Cambiata tenets in teacher-training at all levels: national, divisional, state, region, district, individual schools, and churches.
  • To write, fund, and produce a DVD that outlines the Institute’s mission, philosophy, and methods.
  • To influence choral music education curriculum at the college/university level (NASM).
  • To establish satellite summer programs in different regions of the country.
  • To host a national convention geared specifically to the needs and interests of middle level choirs, middle level choral music educators, and middle level choral music topics and clinicians.
  • To value, create, and maintain a meaningful connection with other professional organizations concerned with the education of early-adolescents, i.e., The National Middle School Association (NMSA), Texas Music Educations Association (TMEA); Texas Choral Directors Association (TCDA); The National Association for Music Education (MENC), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA); International Society for Music Education (ISME); and the National Association Schools of Music (NASM).