Based on my experiences working with choirs over the last twenty years, Choral CHARISMA introduces a dynamic  and transformative approach to Singing with Expression. 

The book begins with an exploration of how directors can create the environment necessary to support such a paradigm shift, presenting thoughts on how to create a safe and supportive atmosphere within the choir ... and why doing so is so important. What follows gives readers all they need in order to institute profound changes within their program – or add different pedagogical methods to their toolbox.

Blending modern Method acting theory, neuroscience, and educational best practices, the book offers comprehensive tools with which to empower singers, enhance the choir's overall musicality, and engage audiences more completely.

Using the approach laid out in the book, directors and singers can transform the choral experience, shifting it from what is often a primarily technical exercise of "crafting beautiful sound" to a more powerful, poignant, and personal exploration of text and music. And while the singing improves as well, that's not the primary goal. 

Considered a literal "must read" by many, Choral CHARISMA has received positive reviews and responses from professionals of all stripes. These include adult, college, high school, middle school, elementary, and children's choir directors across the country – as well as clinicians such as Charlene Archibeque, Anton Armstrong, Rod Eichenberger, Liz Garnett, Josh Habermann, Daniel Hughes, Jeff Johnson, Robyn Reeves Lana, Henry Leck, Elena Sharkova, Vijay Singh, Mary Alice Stollak, and Leon Thurman.


1. Safety First  

        How to create a safe and supportive environment, and why it's so important

2. Emotional Vulnerability

        Techniques to free the expressive body and soul, and why doing so engages the audience

3. Truth, Tone, & Technique

        Using expressive singing tools will dramatically improve the choir's sound

4. Analyze the Text

        How to analyze the text in a way that will support expressive singing

5. Plot & Character

        The beginnings of a connection between singers and text

6. Words & Pictures

        Easily teachable methods which engage the creative imagination

7. The Singer Acts

        Simple acting techniques which instantly humanize the choral experience

8. Personal Matters

        How to create a personally relevant connection to any text

9. That's Nonsense

        Singers can be just as connected when singing nonsense syllables and text

10. When the Music Changes

        How the choir's connection supports the director's interpretation

Appendix: Games & Exercises

        Fun activities which support expression, commitment, and trust (ensemble-building)


From Tom Carter's heart to mine, yours, and your audience members' - very practical advice and unique exercises for choir conductors and singers. I've already used some of the concepts with my choirs and there is an immediacy in the way they work. The book is truly wonderful.
Mary Alice Stollak, Founding Director, The Michigan State University Children's Chorus

Tom Carter not only documents the many reasons singers must be totally connected to text, he also provides exercises to help singers sing 'from the heart' during rehearsals and performance. Choral Charisma is must reading for every choir director!
Charlene Archibeque, Professor, San Jose State University

I strongly recommend Tom Carter's book, Choral Charisma. It's an excellent view of this whole question [how to help singers with facial expression]. 
John Howell, professor at Virginia Tech, frequent poster on ChoralNet, and member of the Four Saints

Created for educators but easily approachable for students,Tom Carter's book delves into the meat and potatoes of music: expression. In the 170 pages of this book, Carter covers everything from tone and technique, text analyses, and strategies for establishing personal connections to music. His writing is easy to read because of its personable yet professional tone. This easy, informative read is complimented by great exercises to help encourage expression in dynamics and facial appearance. 
Benjamin Noyes, music educator and musician

Choral Charisma
is the most inspirational and practical book I've ever encountered regarding humanistic discipline and teaching expressive singing. It gives incredible insight about how we can create a classroom environment where all feel safe to create expressively and preserve their own unique personality.... I absolutely love and recommend this book to all choral directors and conclude that reading it should be a requirement.

Gavin Spencer, Northern California ACDA representative, and choral music director at Shasta High School

Choral Charisma can help choral conductors and singers transform musical scores into living, breathing music and themselves into fully alive, expressive human beings. This book has been missing from the choral conducting profession's library for far too long a time. Here it is! Choral Charisma is an absolutely essential book to have, read, and incorporate into what you do as a choral conductor.
Leon Thurman, founder of The VoiceCare Network, principal author and co-editor of Bodymind & Voice: Foundations of Voice Education, and Specialist Voice Educator at Fairview Voice Center

In choral music there are many "parrot" choirs. These are choirs which learn all the text, pitch, and rhythms, but do not think about the text as they are singing. It helps a choir to expand upon the meaning of the text. For example: Where did this person come from? What are they wearing? What happened to bring this about? I have found the book Choral Charisma… to be very helpful.
Henry Leck, founder and artistic director of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, author of Creating Artistry through Movement and other books

A colleague introduced me to Choral Charisma in 2006, and I encourage everyone to read it. The book... is a refreshing resource to share with those that are learning the art of conducting. Tom Carter expertly explains creating choral artistry through drama, text, and healthy vocal technique offering an in-depth, creative and insightful way of allowing such freedom in the choral rehearsal. Don't perform for your audience simply for the sake of music or even for sharing artistry. Have the choir sing to make a difference in a life, whether just for an evening or by providing a moment that touches the soul of singer and listener alike, bringing back a wonderful memory for years to come.

Robyn Reeves Lana, artistic director of the Cincinnati Children's Choir (the Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), from the article "The Expressive Choir: Touching the Audience with Artistry" in the Choral Journal, July 2007

All choral conductors should read Tom Carter's Choral CHARISMA: Singing with Expression. It is filled with ideas that assist in improving the choir's connection to the music and to the audience.
Rod Eichenberger, Professor of Choral Studies at Florida State University, author of the DVDs What They See Is What You Get and Enhancing Musicality Through Movement

If [readers] desire a single-author book on specific and unique rehearsal techniques that includes an almost comprehensive treatment of the subject matter; they should consider Choral Charisma: Singing with Expression... [Carter's book is] recommended unequivocally.
Stephen Town, Book Reviews Editor, Choral Journal, September 2007

The key to the coaching style is tapping into the singers' desire to improve things on their own, rather than doing it because the conductor said so. Tom Carter's book, Choral Charisma, is very enlightening about this, especially when it comes to expression. He shares the neurological workings of why it doesn't work when choirs are trying to be expressive because they've been told to be expressive, and why it does work when they are individually motivated to truly be expressive. 

Kenneth L. Owen, D.M.A., professor at Pierce College

Choral Charisma is a wonderful book that every choir director should read, about creating a culture that works and singing songs with meaning.

Tom Metzger, member of RealTime (2005 Barbershop Quartet world champions), coach, and blog author

A little over a year ago I was visiting the website Choralnet. I dropped in on a forum conversation about choir performances at the ACDA National in Los Angeles. Someone who had been there (I had not) asked if anyone else was struck by the lack of musical connection by some of the great-sounding choirs. One of the respondents was Tom Carter, author of Choral CHARISMA: Singing with Expression. Mr. Carter commented on the general lack of expression by many choirs who are technically and vocally superior. He also took the opportunity to tell everyone about his new book.

I have been grappling with this dichotomy for many years. "Can we have a choir that goes beyond the technically superior sound to also produce an artistic, visually captivating performance?" We have all probably experienced performing at an adjudicated event where the choir and director were confronted with the question "Why didn't you put the same expression into the Mozart that you had in the Spiritual?" So, I went online and ordered the book. (The author addresses this issue directly on page 29 when he points out: "If the singers fail to connect truthfully and meaningfully to the music, a magnificent sounding choir may be IMpressive, but it won't be EXpressive.")

The first two chapters of this book should be read by all music directors and teachers, regardless of experience or situation. Examples and discussions centering on expectations, respect, courtesy, and support under the heading "Safety First" provide much fodder for deep thought. Mr. Carter directs us all to be aware of the atmosphere that we cultivate in our rehearsal rooms. Discussion moves quickly into "Emotional Vulnerability" which explores the many benefits of authentic connection to text, and invites us to empower our singers with the tools necessary for truthful expression. Expressive singers will have a compelling effect on the audience, engaging their hearts and minds while reminding them of their own humanity, says Mr. Carter. He also suggests that the choir will sound better, singing with greater unity, musicality, sensitivity, and power since "Truthful Connection Affects Sound." If you accept this as truth (and I do), then one must read on.

The rest of the book offers specific techniques for singing with authentic connection. These include everything from text analysis to methods of becoming more personally involved in the music. Each technique is explained in detail, with many examples and anecdotes. Based on Mr. Carter's experience as he relates, these techniques work quickly, and can have a profound impact on the experience of singers at all levels.

Throughout the book, Mr. Carter includes many exercises that help to free up singers physically, mentally, and emotionally. These ideas are easily adaptable for your group setting. I found some that I used exactly as presented. Others were used in part, or modified for the given situation. Some of the exercises dig down to a very personal level, which will challenge the best of singers.

In Choral CHARISMA: Singing with Expression, Tom Carter presents an approach designed to transform the choral experience for singer, director, and audience member. It becomes about imagination, creativity, and engaging "our humanness while singing." He challenges our profession to consider a "paradigm shift" for choral performance toward truthful human connection and away from a dominant (and often limiting) focus on "perfect" sound. According to Mr. Carter, "Choral artists can combine truth and beauty, and have more of each as a result." I believe that it is time to do just that.

This is not a book to be read and placed on a shelf. As Mr. Carter states in his Conclusion: "Use the techniques as you are inspired to do so, choir by choir, day by day, and song by song. The book is meant to be frequently picked up, thumbed through, and perused; a nibble here, a picnic there, and maybe even a feast every once in a while. " I suggest that you dig in!
Norbert Rossi, Walla Walla, Washington, July, 2006, writing for the state choral publication, Unison

Readers' Responses

I have just finished your book and I want to tell you that I loved it! Congratulations on writing the text that should marry drama and music in the eyes (and rehearsals) of many choral singers.
Jeff Johnson, Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kentucky, and author of the DVD, Ready, Set, Sing!

I have read your book and just wanted to let you know that it is really outstanding. Thanks for writing this most valuable resource. You have decided to tackle an issue that is without question on of the biggest problems facing choral music today - lack of connection to the music and to the audience. As an adjudicator of choral festivals and guest conductor for honor choirs in New York, I have noticed this to be an issue that needs to be reinforced time after time. It is just not being taught to choirs at every level. The techniques in the book have already worked wonders with my select chorale of about 80 hear at school.
Norm Zogaib, Choral Director at Hamburg High School, Hamburg, New York

I read your book last year at the beginning of my school year and incorporated many of your suggestions. My goal last year was student retention (for the past three years, my advanced chorus has always been at twenty).  I'm now four days into the new year. My advanced chorus has more than doubled this year at forty-five! I've had the most fun these past couple of days working with my advanced group. They're focused and engaged throughout the class period. This is SO MUCH FUN!!!

As a post script, We've now  been in school a full week. My beginning chorus, which is 6th grade, is already at forty and everyday I get more students signing up. The 6th grade chorus is the class that I'm having the most fun with right now. They're quiet and engaged and at the end of class, many of them are sorry that the class has ended. I tell them at the end of class that we have to put the class on pause for 24 hours. I have twelve boys in class as of today :-).
John Gann, Director of Vocal Music, Clement Middle School

It is really terrific, Tom. I hope all choral musicians read it!
Susan McMane, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, Director of Chorissima

I have your book (as do quite a number of choral colleagues), and it is indeed excellent. Congratulations on a much-needed revitalizing approach. I've done a number of your exercises with several of my choirs, and the results have been remarkable. The great part is seeing the singers coming to life and finding new excitement and meaning in the music. Not one of us knows everything, and reading your book not only brought back memories of exercises long-forgotten, but it showed me how to integrate your approach with new exercises and improve ones we already do. Your book enables choral (and solo) singers of any ability to achieve a higher level of performance of which they think they are capable. I hope sales of your book are healthy, for it should be in every choral director's library!
Larry Marietta, San Francisco City Chorus and Vox Dilecti Director, Minister of Music at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley

I got your book and it is GREAT. I am not done with it, but I am so impressed with the first section. I was surprised, but pleased that you address the classroom climate, discipline and respect. Where can you go if those aren't good?
Norbert Rossi, Director of Choral Activities at Walla Walla High School, Walla Walla, Washington

Superb book. When Charlene [Archibeque, the group's clinician] told my choir that you were writing it, I was excited. I was trying to formulate a plan to incorporate our drama teacher into my curriculum to get my students to connect. And lo and behold, here's your book! The first chapter, which should be required reading of all teachers, is worth the reading alone.
Brad Hayashi, Director of Choral Activities at Mount Whitney High School, Visalia, California

I picked up your book at the ACDA Conference in February. It is very inspiring and encouraging. Your book has made me re-think my teaching.
Shawn Reifschneider, Choral Music Teacher at Hillsdale High School, San Mateo, California

[This is a response to an online choral music forum post about middle school singers looking bored while singing.] Probably anyone who teaches 7th and 8th graders has experienced this! They are just so uncomfortable in their own skins. Get a copy of Tom Carter's book, Choral Charisma, and read, read, read and then try his techniques.... I did that several years back and it gave me the tools to make big changes in exactly what you're talking about. It's all about getting the singers to own what they are singing about and express it well to their audience.
Kathleen Coulter, Lower School Music Director, Canterbury School, Fort Wayne, Indiana

While on sabbatical this past year I read your book and was delighted to find very fine practical ideas about helping singers get to a place of openness and expessiveness in their singing. This is something we've been focused on for some time, and your book introduced a series of tools and exercises that were totally new to me and very helpful.
Joshua Habermann, Assistant Professor of Music at San Francisco State University

This is a note of thanks! I received your book and read it from cover to cover. It was EXACTLY what I had been praying for. I laid the "safety and support foundation" at the start of the semester, then presented the "expressive singing initiative." The choir is already reaping rewards. I realize that I needed a framework, vocabulary and tools, in order to communicate the ideas that I believed to be true about expressive singing. Your book imparted them so well. Thank you for caring enough about artistic expression to write this worthwhile book!
Denise Hayes, Artistic Director, Princeton Area Homeschool Choir

Bought it. Got it. Love it.
Chris Guerra, Choral Director at the Loiederman Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Silver Spring, Maryland

To Order

Or see the table of contents, excerpts, and more, go to the dedicated page at Santa Barbara Music Publishing Company's website

David Harlow is great to work with - you will receive your order as fast as you want it, and in perfect condition. And the cost is minimal at $14.95 plus tax and shipping. If you'd rather order from Amazon, they've got it, too. digital version for iPad is also available.

                                        Thanks to all who so generously allowed me to share their responses.



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