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American Idol Season 5 Top 12 Vocal Masterclass: The Music Of Stevie Wonder


BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC

Hello again, Idol fans. Are you ready to “mastercize” your vocal knowledge? Yes, I just invented another word to add to my eclectic collection.
And speaking of eclectic, we have quite the diverse Group of 12 this year, don’t we? I will once again do my best to provide constructive analysis of their performances each week.
This week, we celebrate the music of the great Stevie Wonder. There were obvious hits and misses, but all the singers portrayed their talent to the very best of their ability.
To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below and, voila, with the touch of a click, you will be forwarded to your favorite singer’s link! Enjoy and please let me know what you think!
Or come and visit my page (a work in progress) on MySpace.Com.

Ace Young, Bucky Covington, Chris Daughtry,

Elliot Yamin, Katharine McPhee Kellie Pickler,

Kevin Covais, Lisa Tucker , Mandisa,

Melissa McGhee, Paris Bennett, Taylor Hicks

Ace Young    “Do I Do”

Strengths: Ace, you exuded a wonderful charisma during your Top 12 performance this week. In previous weeks, that head tone (falsetto) voice was a killer and you used it correctly. You have remarkable pitch when you utilize your head tone, indicating that there is some level of vocal technique augmenting your vocal sound. Good for you! You have worked hard to maintain this integral element in your voice and now you must make certain that you allow the head tone to permeate the other areas of your vocal range. I will discuss this further in the “critique” portion of this assessment.

I loved your energy and enthusiasm at the outset of this number. You moved naturally and gestured in a genuine manner. The choreographic elements in this song were excellent and this is very important as a stage performer. I thought this was a great song choice for you; it was upbeat and showcased your star quality. Good work Ace!

Critique: Okay, let’s get down to business now. Ace, as I said above, you have mastered the art – and it indeed a skillful art – of singing in your head tone register. Now, if only you would implement some of this head tone in your mid to lower vocal register. Your voice lacked focus and resonance because the technique was not utilized in a consistent and intense manner.

Always remember that head tone must be incorporated into every area of your vocal range. It adds a bright, pure, pitch perfect quality to a singer’s voice and allows the voice to maintain a seamless quality throughout all the vocal registers.

Additionally, you must make good use of your diaphragmatic muscles when you sing, as these muscles anchor and reinforce the vocal sound. I felt that the up- tempo pace of the song did not allow you to incorporate adequate vocal technique and, as a result, the song sounded rushed, the voice and words incoherent. Always remember to practice faster paced songs at a snail’s pace, allowing the voice to grab and sustain those vowels. Additionally, your throat was very tense and you must allow the throat to remain open in order for the sound to travel forward to the resonating areas in your face.

I feel you were a bit over pumped at the outset and the song lost some control on your part. You must pace your energy very carefully when you perform up- tempo numbers and, once again, the slow practice would assist you in this regard. Always remember that the choreographic elements must be correctly balanced with the vocal elements, so don’t rush the process in rehearsal.

You have great star quality though Ace. Keep working.
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Bucky Covington     “Superstition “

Strengths: Bucky – there is something about your raw energy that just draws me in. You have a great look on stage, a genuine and earnest charisma compliments your vocal energy. I thought this was an excellent song choice for you. The fact that you were not acquainted with Stevie Wonder’s music was actually a plus, as you incorporated your own style and sound into this great number.

Your stage movements were excellent and you communicated your performance in wonderful fashion to your audience. You moved with ease and playful abandon on stage and just enjoyed the 90- second ride. Your joy and enthusiasm for the music dominated some vocal issues with your voice, which I will discuss in the “Critique” section. You were there to entertain, Bucky, and that you did! Good work!
Critique: Now let’s get serious about your voice. Bucky – your lack of technique really concerns me. As much as I love you as a performer, I need to feel the same love for you as a vocalist. You need to equip yourself with Basic Technique 101, which will assist you in incorporating the correct diaphragmatic breathing technique into your performances. Presently, you are singing with a rigid throat and your facial features are extremely tense, not allowing you to resonate your true voice in your vocal masque (your face).

However, the breathing must be addressed first and foremost. You have to feel those diaphragmatic muscles – the rib cage – expanding and lifting when you inhale your air and then flex with appropriate intensity when you release your air to create the appropriate vocal sound, be it loud or soft, high or low.

If you could practice scales or broken chord technical exercises while sustaining on pure vowels, this would expediently benefit your vocal development. Remember to keep you mouth round on all the vowels and drop your jaw as you move into your upper range. This will allow you to access and utilize your breathing muscles in proper bel canto fashion. Always remember that vocal technique is absolutely important to every singer; it is imperative to the longevity and health of a singer’s voice. Good luck, Bucky!

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Chris Daughtry     “Higher Ground”

Strengths: Chris – this was a wonderful performance. You commanded the stage with an effortless energy in the sense that you never allowed this spirited performance to escape or lose control. It was all about the pacing and you had this element down in spades, Chris. Good for you.

You added a distinctive rock energy to this originally soulful number and, as a result, you gave one of the truly unique performances of the night. This is what is so important in this competition. Every singer must allow his or her artistic identity to prevail through all the theme nights and avoid the pitfall of sounding like a karaoke artist. So, I applaud your professionalism and confidence on the Idol stage, Chris.

Vocally, you have an excellent, meaty instrument that you utilize very well indeed. I noticed that you worked hard to maintain a circular formation with your mouth when sustaining on the pure vowels within your lyrics. Good for you. This is why your voice generally sounded so clear and focused and maintained a rich quality throughout your vocal range. Keep holding on to this technique, Chris, and always remember to anchor your vocal sound from the diaphragm. Bravo!
Critique: Chris – you remind me of Bo Bice at this stage of the competition last year, in the sense that both of you feel very secure within your up-tempo rock numbers. This is great to see and hear; however, I am concerned that we are only seeing one side of your performing abilities. The key to a great performer is the ability to sing ballads as well as up-tempo energetic numbers.

Bo Bice revealed this ability early on in the Top 12 competitions last season and it made such a difference in the fan response. Remember Bo’s performance of “Time In A Bottle?”. He garnered a new legion of fans based on this performance alone and so can you Chris. We need to see more dimension in your vocal abilities, so hopefully a heartwarming ballad is in your Top 12 future.

Additionally, watch your mouth position on your “ee” vowels; do not spread the mouth, as it creates tension and adds a reedy quality to your generally rich vocal sound.

Finally, you must work at efficiently communicating your performances to your audience. You appeared to be in your own rock induced world on stage, living in your personal moment – which is good in terms of sustaining a secure performance. However, you have to bring the audience along for the ride, so make certain that you allow the audience to share in the fun and energy you are imparting on the Idol stage.

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Elliot Yamin     ” Knock Me Off My Feet”

Strengths: Elliot–Stevie Wonder said this was a believable performance and that it was my man! First of all, I was taken a back by the beauty of the natural vibrato in your vocal timbre. It is what makes you distinctive as a singer and defines you, as long as you use the vibrato element judiciously.

It appears that you have been working on your vocal technique, as your mouth was beautifully circular throughout this performance, allowing you to sustain your vocal sound on pure, uncluttered vowels. No diphthongs for you! Bel- canto technique all the way, baby. And that upper register ending was superb.

You performed this number in a musical and genuine manner. This was an excellent beginning for you Elliot! Kudos.
Critique: Elliot – I caution you to avoid raising your head when you sing, especially as you move into the upper register of your voice. This technical flaw not only challenges the proper technical approach, but also diminishes valuable eye contact with your television and live audience. Also, make certain that your vocal masque (facial features) are relaxed and open; generally you adhered to this element very well, but, once again, as you moved into the upper range, you exhibited considerable tension in your face. Remember, the face – especially the eyes – must always appear relaxed and open, not only for proper vocal resonation, but also consistent communication with the audience.

And speaking of proper stage communication, you must now work to free up your body language on stage in order to refine and augment your stage technique. You were noticeably stiff on stage this week and allowed the voice to saturate your performance success. However, you must learn to balance the vocal performance with the stage performance and then you will have all the elements in place, Chris.

However, you appear to be an extremely disciplined and conscientious singer and I hope to see even more improvement in your performances in the coming weeks.

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Katharine McPhee     “Until You Come Back To Me”

Strengths:
Katharine –you really challenged yourself this week by performing this fabulous Stevie Wonder song. This was a wonderful vocal performance and your voice resonated a vibrant and rich quality throughout your vocal range. You have – generally – an extraordinary command of the proper bel canto vocal technique and this allowed you to really experiment with the melodic line of this number with confidence and ease.

You interpreted this number in a very intelligent and musical manner and when these two attributes collide on stage, we are then left with an extraordinary performance. You appear to be a very disciplined musician and I look forward to all your performances in the coming weeks. Excellent work!
Critique: Katharine – be ever so careful that you do not carry your chest voice in large quantities into your upper “head tone” range. This was an occasional problem during the Top 24 semi-final round and again during this week’s performance. Allow the head voice to shine when you move into your upper register and add just enough chest resonance to create a free versus a tense forte dynamic in this part of your range. At times, we lost the beauty of your natural voice when you moved into the higher melodic line of this number, and this resulted in a reedy and stretched quality in your vocal sound.

Additionally, you must really work on your stage technique so that it can reach the superior level of your vocal technique. You seemed very apprehensive on stage, and, like Elliott, your voice sold your performance this week.

However, now you must work in front of a mirror, along with the assistance of your voice coach, to refine and augment your stage skills in order that you can efficiently communicate your numbers to your live and television audience. It will come with time and practice and is well worth the investment as you have enormous vocal potential as an artist. Brava Katharine.

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Kellie Pickler     “Blame it on the Sun”

Strengths: Kellie – not having heard this song before, I have to say I love the song choice for your particular voice and artistry. Perhaps the key could have been a semi-tone higher; however, vocally, you seemed comfortable within the confines of the melodic line.

Your voice possesses a natural ringing timbre that is so essential in pitch perfect singing presentations. You have a natural “head tone quality in your voice, Kellie, and this element generallyadded a seamless brilliance to your vocal range.

You gave a genuine and sincere performance this week Kellie. Congratulations.
Critique: Alright, Kellie, now we have to talk about artistry – the huge element that distances a singer from the world of karaoke. Although you performed the song with the proper feeling and emotion, you did not elevate this song to the artistic level. By this I mean your phrasing and interpretive abilities were severely lacking. When you learn a cover song, you have to develop a distinctive sense of style in your rendition of this number or it will not endure the test of time. Therefore, you must be more creative when you approach this or any cover song. This is where musicality and intelligence walk hand in hand to elevate a performance to the superior level.

Additionally, you appeared very tentative on stage and I understand you were nervous. However, you cannot allow the audience to feel your nervousness. You must involve the audience in your performance to the point that they can feel – not just understand – the lyrics.

Finally, you need to work on the sustaining element in your voice. At times and especially at the ends of your phrases, your endnotes disappeared and were flat in pitch. The sustaining element cannot be interrupted during a vocal number: it is a continuing entity that must permeate the entire performance. Incorporate the head tone element into your voice throughout your range, especially your bottom range, so that you are left with a seamless vocal sound. Your lower range lacked the head tone brilliance of your upper range and, as a result, your vocal production in your lower register was too dark and, subsequently, inaudible. Hope this helps, Kellie. Best of luck in the coming weeks!

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Kevin Covais     “Part Time Lover”

Strengths: Kevin- you exuded every singer’s dream of becoming a Top 12 finalist on American Idol. I loved your energy and enthusiasm on stage this week and you performed with confidence and bravado. Good for you!

I also appreciated your efforts to implement the bel canto technique into your vocal performance. Your mouth maintained a circular position as you sustained the pure, diphthong-free vowels in your vocal masque. Even though this was an up-tempo song, you still managed to sing with a clear and uncluttered vocal sound and I never had the feeling that the song was rushed or unmanageable.

You paced yourself extremely well throughout this performance and added some very promising stage gestures and movements to your performance. A promising first performance! Bravo!

Critique: Kevin, although you incorporated the classical bel canto technique into your performance, you must understand that, stylistically, the approach has to be non-classical one. Technique is essential –yes – but, it was a little bit like watching Josh Groban perform this number and, even he would not allow his classical technique to tamper with the soulful style that this song desperately needed.

I value crisp enunciation of consonants more than anyone, but, in pop music, this element has to be a little more relaxed. It is definitely like walking a very fine line, as you want to ensure that the words are thoroughly understood. If you want to listen to an artist who has this important element down to a science, listen toMichael Buble singing pretty well anything and then you will know what I mean. He uses his vocal technique judiciously when he sings his pop music and relies on nuances within the melodic and lyrical content to dictate his vocal communication.

Also, you have a very promising tenor voice, Kevin; there is an interesting timbre developing here. However, you possess a little too much nasal tone vs. nasal resonance in your vocal sound. Be very careful that you distance yourself from this habitual problem sooner than later. You must allow your nasal passages to relax when you sing and make certain that the soft palate is raised. Try bending your knees (just a bit) when you sing, as this always release the soft palate and augments proper diaphragmatic support. Keep working!

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Lisa Tucker:     “Signed, Sealed, Delivered ”

Strengths: Lisa – what a little spitfire you are! I loved this performance from beginning to end. You sang with infectious exuberance and enthusiasm. You utilized a controlled energy that allowed you to move with ease and grace and these elements highlighted the strength of your vocal sound. No breathy performance here. That diaphragm of yours was working overtime and you voice sounded resonant and richly focused throughout your showcase.

Additionally, you displayed a wonderful level of vocal technique that truly complimented your performing abilities. Young voices can and indeed do sound mature, even at your young age, if the proper technique is guiding and nurturing the vocal process. Lisa, you obviously have done your vocal homework and are to be applauded for your hard and diligent efforts.

You added some lovely nuances throughout this number, such as the soft, subtler passage mid-way through the song. This is what great singing is all about – balancing the dynamics aka the loud passages with the soft passages. It added an element of surprise and ingenuity to the performance. Brava young lady!
Critique: I found so little to critique in this performance. As Stevie Wonder wisely suggested, you incorporated the energy that you displayed in your ballads into this great up-tempo number. This is the key – to allow the voice to be alive and vibrant, as opposed to breathy and unfocused, when one delivers an up-tempo song. There were no problems vocally, Lisa, so congratulations!

However, continue to refine your performing skills, particularly with a number that is lyrically and melodically repetitive. “Signed Sealed Delivered is a great number, but it requires amazing ingenuity to execute so that it doesn’t fall into the “ho hum” category. I felt that you fared better than other performers that I have heard performing this song (with the exception of Stevie Wonder, of course). Just be careful in your future song selections, Lisa – try to discover songs that don’t have these repetitive pitfalls and have a higher degree of melodic and lyrical interest for the audience.

Other than that, I’m out of here. This was an overall professionally strong performance. Brava!

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Mandisa:     “Don’t You Worry About a Thing ”

Strengths: Mandisa – now your voice is just a viable presence from the “get go”, isn’t it? You have a rich robust vocal sound that wrapped beautifully around your melodic lines. Your octave jumps were handled in superb fashion and it is here- in your upper range – that we were able to enjoy the true glorious presence of your vocal timbre. Technically, your upper range was manipulated in solid fashion and you accessed your diaphragmatic muscles consistently.

You gave a solid interpretation of this number and really moved with grace and ease on the Idol stage. I loved this song and I more than loved the neat calypso accompaniment in the orchestral arrangement. Good work, Mandisa!
Critique: Mandisa- there were some technical issues with your lower range. Initially, when I heard the beginning of this number, I was wondering why you selected this key, as the song appeared to sit unfavorably in your lower range. Then, of course, in the 2nd verse the upper level octave jump answered my question. However, I cannot imagine, given the richness of your upper vocal range, that you do not possess an equally radiant bottom range. You must allow the bel-canto/diaphragmatic breathing technique to anchor and resonate your lower range voice, allowing the head tone to permeate this area of your range. In doing so, you will add a more brilliant and secure vocal sound in this area of your voice and, as well, maintain a seamless vocal sound from top to bottom.

You must project the sound toward the bottom half of your vocal masque and sustain it in this area. Feel your teeth vibrate as you sustain your pure bel canto vowels and then you will know you have it just right. Sometimes, I tell my singers to dig into their lower range and really feel their breathing muscles flexing and supporting their voice in as strong and consistent a manner similar to their upper range production. It appears to work – with time – but is worth the effort.

Do not think that, because you are singing in your lower range, that you can allow the technique to slide. Technique is imperative throughout your vocal range. Hope this helps, Mandisa.

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Melissa McGhee:     “Lately “

Strengths: Melissa–I absolutely adore this song, so thank you for including it in the song choices this week. You emoted this beautiful number extremely well. I loved your hushed beginning; it contrasted so beautifully with your stronger passionate ending.

I do agree with Paula that you have a very interesting, smoky quality to your voice that is extremely soothing. It is very unfortunate that nerves and anxiety diminished your performance this week, but always remember that this is all part of the process and the greatest performers in the world (Barbra Streisand, Renee Fleming) have suffered extreme levels of stage fright. The key is to find your own personal way of combating the problem.

I would ask you to purchase Renee Fleming’s book, The Inner Voice or Lucinda Bassett’s book, From Panic To Power<img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=timminsconcer-20&l=ur2&o=1&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important;margin:0 !important;” . Both will give you different perspectives on how to cope with anxiety in general.
Critique: Well, Melissa, you had numerous problems this week, mainly due to anxiety and also, in part, to your lack of really solid vocal technique. The raspy quality in your voice really has me worried; I’m not sure if that is your natural voice or whether it is a product of a lack of technical development. I suspect it is the latter, as your overall vocal production was produced in a very tense and constricted manner.

Your face said it all: it lacked the relaxed openness necessary for maintaining a clear and focused vocal sound and, at times, your voice sounded breathy, indicating a lack of secure diaphragmatic breathing technique. Presently, you are manufacturing your vocal sound with your throat and not allowing the rib cage muscles to support and enhance your natural vocal gifts.

Additionally, you sang with too much chest voice throughout your range and, the lack of head voice presented pitch and timbre problems throughout this performance. Along with Bucky, you must work conscientiously with a vocal technician to remedy your technical problems or it worries me that you will cause a great deal of permanent damage to your vocal cords. Keep working Melissa

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Paris Bennett:     “All I Do”

Strengths: And along came another little spitfire. Paris this was an absolutely brilliant performance that was augmented by your inspired song selection. In the end, this is what makes such a difference – the ability to select a great song that will excite the judges, audience and voters alike.

You maneuvered a smooth seque into the mainly up-tempo version of this song. It was smooth sailing all the way for you Paris. It was truly obvious that you are the recipient of some fabulous vocal and stage technique. Your voice sounded beautifully strong and resonant throughout your vocal range and your stage mannerisms were exceptionally choreographed. Not only were you able to sustain a beautiful legato line, but also you managed to effortlessly produce pitch perfect melismas (riffs)

Your musicality is a God given gift that you respect and never take for granted. Thank you for rendering such a passionate and inspiring premiere performance as a Top 12 competitor. Brava and kudos!
Critique: Paris – I honestly cannot find anything to critique this week. I would just caution you to continue to prepare your song material in the exact diligent fashion each week and make certain that you vary your up-tempo and ballad performances from week to week. Excellent work young lady!

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Taylor Hicks:     “Living For the City ”

Strengths: Taylor -the applause and the cheering at the end of your number said it all, didn’t it? Performers like you make my job so difficult because you incorporate so much energy into a 90- second performance that it is truly hard to evaluate every detail. I was just having too much fun watching you. Who cares if you gyrate too much when you sing? It defines who you are as an artist. Yes – sometimes the movements can be a touch crazy, but, in my opinion, it is all part of the Taylor-made package.

Taylor, you have embedded so much musical passion into your artistic soul and you truly love the art of making music. It is really remarkable to watch the metamorphosis when you begin to sing. . You come alive. It is almost like magic really. In fact, I was chuckling at how serious you looked when you walked on the stage and then – presto – the music began and it was a whole new man on that Idol stage.

Additionally, you truly know how to entertain and please your audience. Singing is fun, right? Or so it should be. And you make sure that it definitely is.

Vocally, your voice is solid. However, with proper training you can augment an already beautiful and soulful tenor voice. This was, for me, the performance of the night. Congratulations and bravo,Taylor!
Critique: Taylor – I would like to see you implement some bel canto technique in the production of your voice. Presently, it lacks an inherent sustaining quality throughout your range and, as a result, your voice is not as resonant or as pure as is possible. I hope that, in addition to working on the performing aspects of your songs, you begin to concentrate your efforts on your overall vocal production. For instance, you have been singing mainly up-tempo songs. Are you rehearsing them at a snail’s pace? The slower pace would allow you to evaluate your voice and identify the areas of tension that need to be addressed. In addition, it would process the valuable sustaining element that is necessary to achieve an even and cohesive vocal sound.

Finally, I don’t know about anyone else, but I would be curious to your ability to sing a slow and sustained ballad. I have a feeling this is in the works – just trying to second- guess how your mind is working. And, if not, then you must consider this or you may run the risk of being too one-dimensional and you are anything but, Taylor. Great Top 12 debut!

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Rosanne Simunovic is the Voice Instructor and Conductor for the Timmins Youth Singers. If you have any further questions our comments, please at e-mail her. If you want to hear how she applies her technical methods to a variety of musical styles music, have a listen to one of her double disc CDs, Scenes from a Dream, a live compilation featuring outstanding performances between 1984-2000 with the Timmins Youth Singers and renowned classical, Broadway, and pop artists. Enjoy!

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About Masterclass Lady

Rosanne (Giallonardo) Simunovic began her musical career in Timmins, Ontario. She studied piano with Anne Pizzale and later, at an advanced level, with Soeur Anita Vaugeois (Sister Cecile of Les Soeurs De L’Assomption in Timmins). Her vocal and accompaniment skills were nurtured by her aunt, the late Dorothea Mascioli. When Rosanne graduated from O’Gorman High School, she moved on to the University of Toronto where she continued her piano and vocal studies while attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She was hired as a piano accompanist for several musical companies, most notably, the National Ballet Of Canada. She presently holds an A.R.C.T. Teacher’s Diploma in Voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Rosanne has studied choral conducting with numerous well known Canadian Conductors, including Wayne Riddell of Montreal, Quebec and the internationally renowned Dr. Elmer Iseler. She has been a founding member of numerous community-based arts organizations: the Timmins Arts Council, later known as Arts & Culture Timmins, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra, and, the Timmins Youth Singers…as well as the TYS Alumnus choir, the Timmins Concert Singers. In 1987, she was also selected to be the conductor of the Timmins Board Of Education Choir, comprised of talented students from Grades 5 to 8. In 1988, she was elected to the Board Of Directors of the Ontario Choral Federation (now known as Choirs Ontario), where she served as Chair of the Festivals Committee for six consecutive seasons. In 1996, in honour of the Ontario Choral Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Rosanne was selected as one of 25 recipients of the OCF’s Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contribution to the choral art. The ceremony was presided by Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman. In November 1997, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Rotary Club Of Timmins to receive the prestigious Paul Harris Award for her years of dedication to the artistic development of young musical talent in Timmins. In August of 2002, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Board Of Directors of Choirs Ontario to serve as Conductor of both the Provincial Junior and Teen Choir Camps, now renamed in honour of the Camp Benefactors, Don and Lillian Wright. In November 2002, Rosanne was the one of the recipients of the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, honouring her work in the development of the arts in Timmins. Under Rosanne Simunovic’s direction, the Timmins Youth Singers and the Timmins Concert Singers have been featured in numerous choral festivals and performing opportunities outside of Timmins. In 1985, they were selected to partici

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