The class teaches students the basics of voice, music composition, instrument use, and music technology, such as recording tracks using Garage Band. Vocal teacher Isabel Wittman instructs the Middle School girls' class, while teacher Joel Michalchuk instructs the boys’ class. The semester-long classes culminate in vocal performances of both choirs, individually and combined, in the performing arts showcase in January.
Singing, especially during the tween years, can be particularly challenging, as boys contend with changing and deepening voices. (Girls’ voices also change, but to a lesser degree.) Separating the students allows Ms. Wittman to assist the girls, while Mr. Michalchuk helps the boys (literally) find their voice, a process that can be uncomfortable at times.
Daniel Novoselov ’25, who is taking the class, agreed, saying he likes being just with boys when it comes to singing. “It’s easier, if you make a mistake, to recover, and you don’t feel quite as embarrassed,” he said.
“In class, we can explore the range of the instrument, which is the voice box,” explained Mr. Michalchuk, who has a bachelor and master’s degree in teaching from Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He said they use exercises such as a “sirens,” where the singer makes a rising sound similar to a siren to see where their voice breaks. This helps them determine what part (alto, tenor, bass) they should be singing. Mr. Michalchuk does it along with them, showing them that even a trained singer has a place where their voice will crack.
“Boys, in particular, can be embarrassed to do it,” he notes. “Its self-exploration, modeling, and with no ladies in the room, it’s easier. And since this doesn’t apply to girls in quite the same way, they might find it boring.”
“A musical instrument is a physical, tangible thing,” said Ms. Wittman, who has a bachelor’s degree in music and education from Rhodes College. “A voice is biological, you can’t see it, it’s all internal, and it can take more time to develop it. For young people who identify as boys, their hormones are causing different vocal changes than those who identify as girls. Choral Innovations allows Mr. Michalchuk to help them hone more of the boy skills, while it allows me to help the girls as they go through their own changes.”
“It’s all about making the students feel safe and comfortable doing something (singing) that can sometimes be quite scary,” said Mr. Michalchuk.
Hun Middle School students are required to take a performing or visual arts class each semester. Students can opt to take the same class both semesters, or explore other options, which include instrumental band, sculpture, art and design, and drama. Additionally, the students take four electives a year, each of which lasts a quarter. They include a study skills class taken by all sixth graders, and health classes required in grades 7 and 8. Students may choose the other three options each year, which include printmaking, photography, television production, and computer coding, robotics engineering, and other selections.