Dr. Robert Russell

Dr. Robert Russell, professor emeritus at University of Southern Maine, working with LA Lincolnaires during a May 8 choir workshop.

On Tuesday, May 8 Dr. Robert Russell, professor emeritus from the University of Southern Maine, conducted a choral workshop with the Lincoln Academy Lincolnaires that was aimed at teaching advanced voice techniques. The Lincolnaires, conducted by Beth Preston, sing a wide variety of repertoire, from Renaissance madrigals and motets, to arrangements by famed a cappella group, Pentatonix.

“For the most part, the students choose their own music. They submit their ideas to the group for approval or ask for suggestions from me. When they were in Concert Choir, their choices were mostly popular music. As they became older and more experienced, their taste in choral music expanded,” said Preston.

Senior Phoebe Pugh says, “I really like the older music like “El Grillo” and “Dixit Maria” because the vocal lines are so pure and the parts weave together so beautifully.”

At the workshop Dr. Russell led singers through an extensive vocal warm up, then listened to the Lincolnaires sing several pieces they are preparing for their May 20 concert. He made suggestions for how to feel the music, breathe, and vocalize effectively. He also looked over the entire performance for details like posture, eye contact, and facial expression with the goal of polishing the performance as a whole.

“It’s wonderful to have Dr. Russell at this time of year, when the group has been singing together since September and we are preparing for our final concert.” said Preston. “He brings a fresh perspective and adds one more layer to their understanding of text and nuance.”

Dr. Russell retired from USM in 2016 after 36 years as a music professor. He continues to work with the Choral Art Society in Portland, and travels around the state conducting singing workshops with students.

Robert Russell“The joy of doing things like this is meeting students that are receptive, and want to move in a different direction. My favorite part is that these students are willing to listen; they are receptive, ready, like sponges. The pleasure in accepting these invitations is seeing that things can change, and students can take different ideas and apply them in their own singing. That’s a lot of fun.”

He describes his teaching process during a workshop as mostly “listening and responding.”

“I always hope to make a positive difference. Beth [Preston] always chooses wonderful songs, and her students are always prepared. When they know their music, they have the possibility of moving. Some students I meet at other schools can’t change: I give them suggestions, and they sound exactly the same. But Beth’s groups always respond… which is saying something because her groups are always so good to begin with. The changes are subtle, but noticeable. That is very satisfying as a teacher.”

“We got to work with Dr. Russell at All State last year, so it was really nice to be up close and personal with him,” said junior Jonah Daiute.

“Dr. Russell was the chorus master of Opera Maine’s production of “La Traviata.” Jonah and I got to work with him and it was a blast, “ said junior, Ethan Jones.

Ten students who sing with the Lincolnaires qualified for the All-State Choir and will travel to Orono this week to sing with the best singers in Maine at the All-State Music Festival on May 17-19. Twenty-three of them sang in the District III Honor Choirs in January.

The Lincolnaires, Concert Choir, and String Orchestra will perform at their Spring Concert on May 20 at 7 pm at St. Patrick’s Church. Admission by donation will support the choirs’ trip to New York City in April of 2019.