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Berton Coffin papers

Identifier: CoU-AMRC-20

Scope and Contents

The Berton Coffin Papers contain professional materials on Dr. Coffin’s work as a Vocal Pedagogue from 1956 to his death in 1987. The collection contains writings and publications, including first editions of his books along with drafts and research material used and developed by him; press releases and copyright certificates for his publications; audio cassettes; and projector slides from his classes. Includes materials related to his students and collaborators; as well as posthumous memorials and celebrations of his work.


  • Creation: 1956-2007

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

The American Music Research Center does not control rights to any material in this collection. Requests to publish any material in the collection should be directed to the copyright holders.

Biographical Note

Berton Coffin (b. 1910 April 11 - d. 1987 January 28), was Professor of Music and Chairman of the Division of Voice at the CU's College of Music for almost 31 years. Coffin began his academic career as a physics major, but later graduated with an English major from at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1932. Having already begun his vocal studies, he then received a B. M. in vocal performance from Chicago Musical College in 1935, an M. M. and an M. A. from Eastman School of Music in 1930 and 1946 respectively, and a D.M.A. from Columbia University in 1950. During his studies he was also singing professionally, and his private studying years include some notable teachers and coaches such as Paola Novikova, Mack Harrell and Werner Singer.

Coffin’s career as a scholar began at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, where he was Professor of Voice and Head of the Division of Music and Fine Arts. In 1946 he joined the Voice Faculty of the College of Music at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as an Associate Professor of music. Coffin became a full professor in 1959 and later served as Chairman of the Division of Voice until his retirement in May of 1977. He initiated CU’s D.M.A. program in vocal pedagogy, one of the first such programs in the United States. Notable among the numerous successful singers that worked with Professor Coffin are Nicolai Gedda, Herbert Echkoff, Jerome Pruett and Drew Minter.

During his time as a voice teacher, Coffin’s curiosity for the scientific basis of singing, and his constant search for technical methods for the teaching of the art, inspired his entry into the study of acoustics, research which led him to some of the leading centers for acoustical study, including Vienna, West Berlin, Stockholm, Zurich,; Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, The British Museum, and The Bibliothèque Nationale, among others. His findings and theories in the field can be found within his numerous volumes that introduced practical tools for the pedagogy of singing: The Singer’s Repertoire, Phonetic Readings of Songs and Arias, The Sounds of Singing: Vocal Techniques with Vowel-Pitch Charts and Overtones of Bel Canto, the latter being the most internationally acclaimed. His Vowel Chart, which examined and developed the relationship between vowels and pitches in the different voice tessituras, continues to be one of the most used tools in teaching singing around the world. Many master classes and conferences have been held in the name of his work, especially on his Overtones of Bel Canto.

Coffin was a charter member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and served as its President in 1968. He served as Chairman of the Editorial Board of the NATS Journal, and frequently published in that journal from 1969 through 1984. He also was director and co-director of several NATS Summer Workshops at the CU Boulder Campus and was a part of the formulation of plans and standards of the NATS Foundation.

Upon his retirement in May of 1977, Dr. Coffin was named Professor Emeritus and, along his wife Mildred, were given the Robert L. Stearns Award for distinguished service to the University of Colorado. A scholarship for graduate voice students under his name was established that same year. Another Berton Coffin Scholarship was created in 1986 through the NATS Foundation, presented to one of the finalists of the NATSSA Competition at the national convention, held every 18 months.

After his retirement, the Coffins moved to Europe and established a private vocal studio for professional singers in Vienna, Austria, as well as for those working in German opera houses. Professor Coffin became a member of the Voice Faculty of the American Institute of Musical Studies, in Graz, Austria for seven summers in 1976 through 1982. Coffin’s post-retirement activities also included an appointment as Visiting Professor of Voice at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1981 and 1982, and a Visiting Professor appointment at the Southern Methodist University of Dallas, Texas, from 1982 to 1985.

Due to ill health, Coffin returned to Boulder, Colorado in May of 1985 where he continued to use his skills as a private consultant and continued his pedagogical writings until his death in January of 1987. The Faculty of the College of Music posthumously selected him for the very first “Distinguished Faculty” Award, in March 30th of 1987.


12 boxes

Language of Materials


Arrangement of The Berton Coffin Papers

Collection is arranged in 5 series:

  1. Series 1. Writings and Research
  2. Series 2. Citations and Press
  3. Series 3. Personal Papers
  4. Series 4. Audio and Visual Media
  5. Series 5. Projector Slides

Physical Location

Housed in the American Music Research Center

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated by Martha Coffin Evans, daughter of Berton Coffin, in 2011. Additional material was donated by Patrick Mason, retired Chair of the Voice Faculty at CU's College of Music, in 2018.


Processed and Encoded by:
Julieta Garcia
Date completed:
July, 2018
The Berton Coffin Papers 1956-2007
An inventory of holdings at the American Music Research Center
Conversion Draft
Julieta Garcia
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States