Take this class: vocal jazz ensemble


Vocal jazz professor Art Lapierre teaches his beginning vocal ensemble class at American River College on Jan. 22 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Alondra Botello)

Alondra Botello

Music stands labeled “ARC MUSIC” wait silently to be placed in a semi-circle around a Yamaha grand piano. From the distance you can hear multiple students warming up their voices before walking into the classroom.

The rustling of paper begins to fill the room. With pencils in one hand and fresh, crisp music sheets in the other, these vocal students are ready to sing in order to best prepare for their performance at the end of the semester.

This class is Music Performance 400 and it’s an opportunity for students to learn and sing in a vocal jazz ensemble on campus with an added bonus of checking off a CSU general education requirement.

The two unit course is designed as an interactive lab with a lot of singing. Lectures are woven into the lesson if a skill requires more demonstration.  

Although one music genre is the focus of the class, the learning outcomes are more than one.

“There are too many skills [learned] to put in an article,” says the class’s professor, Art Lapierre. “I will mention beyond developing a better singing voice, the ability to hear harmony, improve your rhythmic feel, blend and balance.”

Lapierre studied voice in college and has now been teaching for 39 years—20 of those teaching years at ARC.

Songs are chosen by Lapierre with the help of students and are worked on the entire semester.

During a vocal jazz concert students get a chance to showcase all of the skills and music they learned throughout the time they worked together.

More than that, the class is a team effort and students inevitably learn to be good teammates, according to Lapierre.

Stephen Frantz, a fourth semester student in the course, says he has grown both musically and personally.

Students should take this class, “to learn more about being accountable for a team result and the need to work at your highest level even when you don’t feel like it,” Frantz says.

Shannon Parish is a psychology major and has been in the class for four semesters. She thinks that people should enroll in the class because of the valuable life lessons it offers.

“In this class I have learned discipline through having to be responsible for my own progress,” Parish says.

Skills that are useful outside of a musical environment are also developed in this course.

“I have learned that what you put in is what you get out and that applies not only to this class, but every class I am enrolled in,” Parish says.

The ensemble is of limited size and the course can be taken up to four times for credit.

Lapierre’s hope is that “ taking the class will help ARC students ‘find their own voice’ among so many voices on the campus.”

He is looking for students who simply want to sing jazz to be a part of the team.

His hope is that more people take the time to sing out.

“Singing can free you to become more of you,” Lapierre says.