Conference Morsel: Teaching Courageously
Date: June 4, 2014
(An excerpt from the interest session “Conductor “Creature” Vs. Conductor-Teacher: Empowering Singers Through Authenticity in the Choral Rehearsal,” presented by Ryan Beeken and Andrea Ramsey during the 2014 ACDA Southwest Division Conference)
In his book “The Courage to Teach,” Parker Palmer says: “…teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge — and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.”
Conductor-creatures often fail to look into that mirror. They tend to create an adversarial relationship with their choristers and place blame upon the singers. The “creature’s” poor planning, insecurity, and/or an inability to trust contributes to this combative relationship. In contrast, conductor-teachers reflect upon their instruction, focus upon student needs, and foster a collaborative rehearsal environment. They prepare multiple strategies to ensure student success, empower their singers to contribute to the rehearsal process, and cultivate an atmosphere of trust.
In his 2005 article, “Shaping Identity Through Choral Activity: Singers’ And Conductors’ Perceptions,” published in Research Studies in Music Education, Colin Durrant presents a model of an effective choral conductor. He argues that in addition to musical skill and knowledge, today’s conductor must possess the capacity to create a positive, non-threatening environment while communicating clearly. Today’s successful conductor, the conductor-teacher, looks into that mirror, does not run from what they see, fosters a collaborative relationship with their choristers, and achieves musical excellence along the way.