Local Blog #2: The Intelligent Choir

Jim in action

A choir full of academic super brains and future winners of „Who wants to be a millionaire“? What makes a choir intelligent? The title „The Intelligent Choir“ was invented by the Danish choir professor Jim Daus Hjernøe and refers to his pedagogical philosophy: to educate your choir singers in taking more responsibility for the musical process. Jim Daus is one of my teachers in pop/jazz choir leading at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus/Aalborg (Denmark), who is specialized in choral improvisation (a. o.  Circle Song), Soundpainting and ear training for choirs. Over the past 10 years, he created a methodology that is inspired by Bobby McFerrin, The Real Group, Walter Thompson and the Berklee College of Music. The basic principle of his ideology is to prepare the choir singers to shape the intended music in the most efficient way. ”The Intelligent Choir” is the opposite of a choir that receives all information about the music from the choir leader. The goal is to create a group of singers that are also able to guide the musical process as leaders. A raw model of this philosophy is the Danish pop choir Vocal Line that consists of many singers that are choir leaders themselves and who are often allowed to make musical decisions on their own. However, it is no coincidence that Jim Daus and Jens Johansen, the leader of Vocal Line, are following the same philosophy in educating choirs. We have to go back to the early 90s.


It was the time when Jens started Vocal Line and Jim studied at the Royal Academy of Music. A time, when the city of Aarhus was open for pop choirs. In his last year of studies, Jim was taught in pop/jazz choir leading by Jens. In the following years both were teaching choir leading at the conservatory. In 1999 Jim started to teach at the conservatory in Aalborg and was supported by the former leader of the Royal Academy to start in 2004 the first Bachelor programme for pop/choir leading in Denmark. Info for all the ACA geeks: The first student that took the education was Morten Vinther, who is nowadays a member of The Real Group. In 2010 the two conservatories in Aarhus and Aalborg merged and made development in the programmes of pop/jazz choir leading as a main subject possible.


As a student of the Royal Academy of Music I have to emphasize the great flexibility that the conservatory offers with all their study programmes, though it is sometimes hard to keep the overview. The Royal Academy is - as far as I know - the only conservatory in the world, where you can study pop/jazz choir leading as a main subject. This is of course attracting students from all over Europe and even one student from Uruguay!! At the moment there are 24 students in the different programmes. For all of you who might think: „Wow! That sounds all really interesting! How can I study there without having to move to Denmark and without learning the difficult Danish language?” Well, I can tell you, there is hope! The conservatory does not only offer Bachelor and Master programmes on a full time basis, it is also possible to study long-distance classes, where you only have to travel 6 weekends a year to Aalborg. Geeky info number 2: An international airport is located right next door. In long-distance learning you can choose between 4 options, depending on the qualifications you already have. You could follow an inspiration class without any qualifications. If you have already studied music and want to improve your choir leading skills, you could audition for an international professional Master course or a Diploma course (EVU) based on half-time studies. For those of you, who have already studied a Bachelor in choir leading and write vocal break warm-up exercises for breakfast, you could audition for a talent line (KA-RK) in pop/jazz choir leading.

Besides the long-distance programmes the Royal Academy offers regular Bachelor and Master programmes in Aarhus and Aalborg, depending on how much you want to focus on pop/jazz choir leading with your ECTS points. You think that this sounds like a huge buffet of possibilities? Just to wait for the dessert. There is even a 2-year post-doc programme (soloist) for those who cannot get enough of being a student. The list of well-known names that studied or is studying one of those educations is rather long. So in order not to forget anyone, I will instead keep on writing about the content of studies.


As mentioned above professor Jim Daus Hjernøe, leader of VoxNorth, is the innovative pillar of the pop/jazz choir leading department. His teaching focuses on choral improvisation, Soundpainting and ear training. Jesper Holm, leader of the jazz vocal group Touché, focuses on vocal jazz in choirs, conducting technique and rehearsal methods. Malene Rigtrup, 10 years singer, arranger and assistant leader of Vocal Line, teaches arrangement and rehearsal methods for pop choirs. They are supported by guest teachers like Kristian Skårhøj (original Circle Song), Roxorloops (Beatbox), Walter Thompson (Soundpainting) and Peder Karlsson (The Organic Choir). In order to get a deeper understanding of pulse-based ”rhythmic music” – as the Danes call it – most of the choir leading students have supplementary classes like ”Singing, Dancing and Playing”, ear training, piano and singing. In addition to this, there are already plans about connecting a semi-professional vocal group to the education, to give the students a rehearsal group that suits their skills. The great idea of gathering all choir leading classes in Aalborg already creates the vibe of a “Nordic Vocal Centre”. The collaboration with the Norwegian conservatory in Levanger and the French organisation Cepravoi shows that there is a need for international exchange of pop/jazz choir music. In some years there might be an international exchange programme for students and teachers to spread the knowledge about this fantastic music we are working with. I can highly recommend studying at the Royal Academy of Music, because of the creative, personal and flexible structure. For more information, please check out the conservatory website: https://www.musikkons.dk  (you can find the English version as well) and spend 4 more minutes to watch this presentation video:


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