Performing Arts

Summer Singers tackle Carmina Burana, with help from this voice expert

As director of the Institute for Healthy Singing, Jamea Sale helps singers make the most of their talent without damaging their voices.
As director of the Institute for Healthy Singing, Jamea Sale helps singers make the most of their talent without damaging their voices. Janie Jones Photography

Colby is doing something right. The town of 5,400 in western Kansas has a knack for producing exceptional musical talent. Opera superstar Samuel Ramey grew up there, and two of Kansas City’s musical luminaries come from Colby: organist Jan Kraybill and someone who is something of an unsung hero in Kansas City’s classical music scene, Jamea Sale.

Sale is the director of the Institute for Healthy Singing, which is part of the William Baker Choral Foundation, of which Sale is the executive associate music director. She’s also the assistant director and vocal coach of the Allegro Choirs of Kansas City. Sale has been a mainstay in Kansas City’s choral community since 2002 and has helped countless area singers develop their voices in a healthy way to maximize their talents without damaging their instruments.

Her insight into healthy singing is proving itself especially important as she helps William Baker prepare the Summer Singers for a performance of Carl Orff’s loud and demanding Carmina Burana, which will be performed Aug. 19 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Like Ramey and Kraybill, Sale is a graduate of Colby High School — Kraybill graduated three years before Sale.

“Colby has a rich background in music,” Sale said. “We had good educators, and the school system valued what music had to offer. We had access to a piano teacher, voice teacher and band teacher and, for a number of years, there were string teachers. That’s something I took for granted. I thought everybody had that accessibility. When I got to college, I realized it was very unusual.”

Sale went to Kansas State University, where she received a degree in music education in vocal and instrumental music. Along the way, her attention was diverted by the burgeoning field of computer science, and she pursued a career in computer graphics. Sale rediscovered the importance of music when she had children.

“It was part of our play and part of our enjoyment. I was singing in church, and the church encouraged me to get training and begin classes in early childhood music.”

Sale also enrolled one of her daughters in the Allegro Choirs of Kansas City and became a volunteer with the organization, eventually becoming an assistant director and vocal coach for the group. She was introduced to Allegro when the choir performed with the William Baker Festival Singers, which Sale joined in 2002.

According to Baker, Sale came up through the ranks to become the executive associate director of the Choral Foundation.

“If I get hit by the proverbial ice cream truck, she’s the one who takes it all over,” Baker said. “I hope I never see her driving an ice cream truck.”

The Choral Foundation, which was founded by Baker in 1990, now encompasses 12 performing ensembles based in three states, educational programs like student internships and the Institute for Healthy Singing. It is also a repository of resources for the nation’s choral community that includes the Jane Sullivan Choral Library and Amber Waves Music Publishing.

Through Sale’s work with choirs of various ages and skills she discovered how easily the voice can be damaged by poor training and habits. She has made the mechanics of the human voice a lifelong study and, in fact, has just begun pursuing a doctorate in choral pedagogy from the University of Kansas. Sale is bringing a lifetime of experience to her role as director of the Institute for Healthy Singing.

“The thing about Jamea that is so amazing is her capacity to engender a loving and encouraging relationship between the voice as an instrument and the singer as a human being,” Baker said. “It’s her compassion and her insight and her humanity that make her such a magnificent musician and vocal pedagogue.”

The Summer Singers of Kansas City is one the groups that performs under the Choral Foundation umbrella. The chorus comprises roughly 150 professional and amateur singers and the orchestra is made up of members of the Kansas City Symphony. This year the Summer Singers is tackling one of classical music’s most bombastic works, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Orff composed Carmina Burana in 1935 and 1936, basing it on texts by some rather wayward medieval monks. These are poems that celebrate drinking and sensuality and praise Venus, the goddess of love. Orff responded to the monks’ pagan ribaldry with a powerful cantata that contains some of the most popular classical music. Used in countless commercials and films like “Excalibur,” the rousing Carmina Burana is familiar to almost everyone.

Sale is helping the Summer Singers navigate the perils of the score.

“It’s a piece that’s long, and you have a group of singers that are coming together from a lot of different backgrounds,” Sale said. “Carmina Burana also has the challenge of volume. There are movements that require big sounds, and that can encourage people to go in a direction that will not be super healthy if they don’t know how to support the voice or produce that sound without causing harm.”

Baker appreciates having Sale’s expertise guiding his choir in such a monumental work.

“There are few pieces of classical music that could qualify as a spectacle, and Carmina Burana is a spectacle,” Baker said. “You are awash in sound and beauty, challenging ideas and the exploration of the spirit and the mind and the body. It’s a great thrill ride.”

2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19. Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th. $5-$20. festivalsingers.org.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

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