Posture, breathing techniques among noteworthy lessons at Howard vocal camp

Youngsters at a summer vocal camp in Howard County are learning the importance of bending their knees when they sing, lest they get dizzy, become queasy and pass out.

Who knew something as simple as posture could derail a performance before you even bellow a note?


That's just one tip youngsters learned this past week at the summer camp, offered by the county Recreation and Parks department and held at Mount Hebron High School.

The weeklong vocal camp is among several hosted each summer by Recreation and Parks officials for preteens and teens looking to sharpen their performance skills. In addition to singing posture, students learn basic breathing techniques and music notation. Students also study stage pieces from Broadway, classic genres and "Charlie Brown" performances.

The camp culminates with group performances and solos before an audience.

Camp instructor Rebecca Rossello said she hopes students will apply the lessons after camp ends.

"It's just great [knowledge] for the kids; some of them have auditions for the fall," said Rossello, 39, who also works as a vocal instructor at Friends School of Baltimore. "Some might want to go into a show. They say, 'I practice really well at home … then I get on stage and I start to get all funny.'"

Rossello said that in her 17 years of teaching and working with youth choirs she's seen youngsters faint or vomit during stage performances; poor posture was the likely culprit.

"If your lower back is out of whack, what happens is your knees lock, and for a lot of kids that can be a problem," Rossello said. "There's an artery that runs behind your patella, and if you squish it you cut off your blood flow."

Allen Yuan,11, a rising sixth-grader from Ellicott City, said he took the class to improve singing for one of Burleigh Manor Middle School's choral groups. Ditto fellow camper Parker Brown, 13, a rising eighth-grader also from Ellicott City.

"I signed up to improve my singing skills in audition in eighth grade for a play, and to just to have fun with music," Parker said.

During one camp day, students grew listless from performing, prompting Rossello to instruct them to walk around while singing. Within moments, tired voices perked up and high notes echoed throughout the room.

"Walking when singing does a couple of things — when anyone gets tired, your posture goes and that can inhibit your breath support," Rossello said. "Walking around gets their energy back up, and you're not hearing the same voice next to you, and it's fixture your posture."

Then there are breathing techniques. Rossello instructs students how altering their inhaling and exhaling patterns can influence range and tone while singing.

"In singing, you want to have your spine nice and straight, so when you breathe in you're letting the lungs really expand," Rossello said. "The muscle underneath the lungs, the diaphragm, when it goes down you pull air into your lungs. You want it to descend as much as it would when you're playing basketball or football. Except that when you're holding still the body really doesn't want to do that.

"So what we try to do is have fabulous posture," Rossello said. "When we breathe in we let our ribs really expand, and the trick to what we call 'vocal support' is to keep the weight of the ribs from falling again as you're breathing out."


The campers said Rossello's expertise made for a camp that certainly wasn't ordinary.

"We've been doing a lot of breathing from our backs, and I'd been taught to breathe from the front," said Adjoa Armoo, 14, a rising ninth-grader from Columbia. "It's been strange for me."

"We do a lot of games outside [the classroom] and that helps your breathing, too," said Sage Fenton, 12, a rising seventh-grader from Columbia.

"At first I was like, 'Wait, this is a fun camp,'" Sage said. "I know camp's supposed to be fun, but when we played outside, I was like, 'That was cool.' "