Princeton choir director Dr. Trineice Robinson-Martin visits Concert Glee Club for Gospel music masterclass


Isabella Ciriello , Staff Writer

Princeton University’s choir director Dr. Trineice Robinson-Martin visited the Concert Glee Club for a masterclass in gospel music this Wednesday. Music Department Chair Timothy Ho and music teacher Carmen Keels invited Robinson-Martin to share her expertise with the choir for a gospel piece they are working on, titled “Made Up Mind.”

Robinson-Martin teaches in Princeton’s jazz department and has expertise in gospel, soul, and jazz music. At the workshop, she led the students through movement-based exercises that taught them to move single fluidly and feel the energy of the piece.

Ho is thrilled that Concert Glee Club can finally perform this song, he said. He has wanted to bring it to the school since he first heard it in 2002. “I had the right choir to do it, but the genre is somewhat out of my expertise,” he said. “I was like, ‘Okay, we need somebody who can actually take it to the level that it should be.’”

Ho asked Keels whether she knew any choir directors who specialized in gospel singing. She proposed to Robinson-Martin — when Keels was in graduate school at Teachers College at Columbia University, Robinson-Martin was one of her teachers and mentors.“The first person that came to mind was Dr. T,” Keels said.

Robinson-Martin elevated Concert Glee’s skills and reframed their approach for the gospel piece by introducing the students to new techniques and styles, Ho said. “[Dr. Robinson-Martin’s resume] is extensive in terms of her understanding and training — not only in music education and vocal pedagogy, but specifically in African-based folk music styles, primarily jazz and gospel.”

Along with technical expertise, Robinson-Martin discussed how the students should feel while singing gospel, stressing the importance of connecting with the audience. “You as a singer are testifying to yourself and the listener. It’s a mutual agreement and a decision to realize you’re good enough,” Robinson-Martin said.

Jeffrey Dai (11) enjoyed the workshop because of Robinson-Martin’s excitement and passion while teaching the piece. “It was the most exciting, most energetic 45 minutes I’ve ever had at Horace Mann,” Dai said. “It was as if I was sitting in on a college course.”

Dai also appreciated the unconventional approach Robinson-Martin took to helping the choir connect to the music, he said. “Getting into the energy, and the mood, and the vibes seems way harder than it actually is, but it’s just that combination of simple exercises and knowing how to mentally give yourself permission, as she told us — to feel joy and feel that power,” he said. “That’s what turns it into a great piece.”

Athena Spencer (12) found that many of the exercises forced the students out of their comfort zones and allowed them to approach the song from a different angle, she said. “It was a very interesting take because she didn’t really give us that many specific vocal directions. It was more about the importance of understanding the message of the music.”

Like Spencer, Isa Melián (11) appreciated how Robinson-Martin focused on the text and its meaning. “She made me think more about the significance behind each word of the piece,” Melián said. “Robinson-Martin taught us how to be as emotive as a church choir would be.”

Spencer especially liked when Robinson-Martin had the singers face each other and sing while making circular gestures with their arms to feel the beat of the music, she said. “It was definitely a little awkward at first to make eye contact with a random person who was sitting behind you, but it was good,” they said. “She made sure we knew how important it was that everyone was synced up with the music and feeling it in the same way rather than being exactly accurate.”

Melián enjoyed how Robinson-Martin stressed the importance of full-body engagement both while singing and learning, she said. “She made us open up and not be scared to dance or shout out the words,” Melián said. “She opened up our voices through some very simple exercises.”

Bailey Hecht (12) enjoyed how the class was full of movement and energy, she said. “We bounced around a little, which is very new for us. [Robinson-Martin] just brought overall good vibes to the room, which then allowed us to be happier and more energized throughout the song.”

The workshop helped the choir embrace the feeling of the piece, Dai said. “It feels much more alive and vibrant, like something enabled [Concert Glee] to let go of the way we were trained to approach pieces that we’ve sung [in the past].” 

Both Ho and Keels are thrilled about the technique and passion Robinson-Martin brought to the choir. “The Concert Glee Club has really taken to the song very well, and I’ve taken it very seriously,” Ho said. “Now is the time to trust them to transform it from something that’s no longer technical into something that is heartfelt and genuine.”