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The single Most important thing for a choir director to know


Started 2-25-00
> Hello! My name is Breanne and I am a high school junior from Oswego, IL. I
> am currently planning to major in music education when I get to college. I
> want to be a choir director -- one of those "really really good" ones. You
> know, just like the ones you worked with in high school who somehow lit a
> fire inside you and inspired you to be the absolute best you can be. Those
> are the directors that give you a love for music that you long to pass on to
> everyone you know...the directors that you want to be just like "when you
> grow up." You see, I know what I want to be, I just don't know how to get
> there. I don't know what the secret is! So in order to know what a "really
> really good" choir director is, I'm asking college professors to answer one
> simple question for me:
>
> What, in your opinion, is the single MOST IMPORTANT thing that a choir
> director MUST remember or do in order to be successful?
>
> I guess I'm just looking for one "really really good" piece of advice from
> every director I can get a hold of so that when I put them all together, I'll
> have the best of the best advice out there. Then, hopefully, if I can use it
> all in my OWN profession, I'll be a "really really good" choir director,
> which is, of course, the ultimate goal!
>
> I would really appreciate any response you can give to my question. It's
> very important to me that I get as much advice as I can about the career I'm
> so quickly jumping into, so I thought I'd better start early. I hope to hear
> from you soon!
>
> Breanne Lucka
> JelBean37@aol.com
>
Hello, Breanne. Congratulations on your endeavor to be the best choir director you can be. The first suggestion I have is to sing under directors who you believe are the '"best" and learn as you go. (I'm singing with "Essence of Joy" from Penn State and Dr. Tony Leach is one of those BEST types-) Secondly, never stop learning-always be on the look-out for something new, something better, something more exciting! But perhaps most importantly, is to be prepared when you step in front of your choir. Know your music inside and out, and don't ask members to do anything you can't do yourself.
Good luck to you. And if you live anywhere in Atlanta, Jackson, MI, or Memphis, our choir is on our way to your neck of the woods the first week of March.
Linda Hoffman
Yellabee@aol.com

The secret to having a successful choir is knowing God for yourself. There is nothing like having a choir that is sold out to Jesus Christ!!!!! I direct a youth/young adult choir that is so awesome......when they sing, lives are changed....if one life can be turned around...one more off of drugs, etc.....that to me is the measure of success.
Life is short and everyday a gift from God...we must treasure the time we have and make it count!!!!!! God is truly the only one that can totally change lives, heal hearts and transform people. That's why He's God!
Food for thought: People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!
Have a great day!
Cheryl
Clamb31@aol.com

Dear Breanne,
In my opinion, in order to be a really good choir director, a person needs to have the musical skills and breadth to develop an interpretation of a piece of music, and the leadership and communicative abilities, both verbal and physical, to bring that interpretation to life with a choir -- with beautiful vocal tone!
As you can see, I don't believe there is one single most important element. It is a combination of skills and talents, plus a love for music and a lot of hard work, that makes for a successful conductor.
All the best as you head toward your goal,
Prof. Susan Klebanow
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
skleb@email.unc.edu

Breanne, my best advice, speaking from my own experience, is to find the best possible choir you can to be a part of and the best voice teacher you can find. My granddaughter attends Henderson State University at Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The Chorale she sings in is one of the best I have ever heard and her voice has really blossomed since she has been there. One more thing: learn to be a great conductor. Your job is not to "put on a show," but to help your singers.
Good luck and keep me posted on how you're doing. Thanks for asking.
BillG0973@aol.com

Hello,
First I would like to wish you all the luck in the world in your chosen profession. I am a church choir director but I have directed secular choirs as well. I love it and I too had a choir director/voice teacher who touched my heart and helped my love of music to grow.
The most important thing to do or remember.................that's a toughie. I guess I would have to say don't be afraid to try new and different types of music that you are not familiar with. When you start you tend to use music that you like and styles you are comfortable with. That's perfectly natural, but always strive to expand your musical knowledge. You will likely find that there are many genres of music that you enjoy.
I would also say to you that you should always remember why you chose music as a profession to start with. Your love of music will be tested when you are struggling to put together a Christmas program and you are short male voices, you can't get everyone to rehearsal at the same time, and you have a deadline approaching. Hahaha It will happen, those are the times you need to remember how music can fill your heart and soul with joy!
I wish you the best of luck in everything you do!
Tracey
TNTracey65@aol.com

Hi - I am a retired choir director. I don't know if I can narrow a successful career to just one major suggestion. I think one must sing in good choirs and observe the techniques of various directors. Being a capable pianist is a must as is being able to read 4 lines of music (SATB) and playing them in rehearsals. If you have anymore questions feel free to contact me. I graduated from SF Conservatory 50 years ago.
Bach156231@aol.com

Dear Breanne,
Always listen. Listen to your singers, listen to yourself, listen to the music, sometimes in that order and sometimes not. It depends on the situation. Listen with discretion and listen with love.
Good luck!
Harriet McCleary
St. Olaf College
mccleary@stolaf.edu

Breanne,
Congratulations on your decision to enter choral music and your desire to be the best you can be. I'm sure you'll get lots of great answers from many fine conductors, and I'll bet they find it as difficult as I do to define one overriding characteristic.
The most important thing about being a choral conductor is the same thing that is true for all musicians - to succeed you must know dig to the bottom or music. Learn as much music as you can - choral music, orchestral music, solo literature, etc etc. The more music you know and the more deeply you have delved into it - the better musician you will be. You must know exactly how a piece is constructed, what period and style it represents, etc., so you will know before you ever see the singers, how you want the music to sound. Second, you must know the voice - just as a clarinet player knows as much as she can about clarinets, reeds, playing styles, etc. As a choral musician, you must know the voice. Third, you must develop your craft - that of conducting - so that your gestures and postures enhance and evoke the sound. Your gestures must be so right, so knowledgable, clear and effective, that your singers will produce the sound you want.
It's a lifelong challenge and joy, and I wish you the best!
Pam Schneller
Vanderbilt University
Rolschnell@aol.com

Hi Breanne. I got your letter about your desire to become a choir director. Bravo!
You wonder what the secret is...well. I'm not sure there is one. I think that at the root of all good choir directors you will find a burning love for music. In the right person, this love is infectious: they can't help but spread the love, because they are a sharing kind of person.
If a director can get that love across to others and inspire them to feel it too, then that director is successful.
Some places you might want to look for experience would be in church jobs. I don't know if you go to a church, but I've found it's a great place to get directing experience without too much judgement about your skill. Youth choirs are especially in need of good leaders...many people are afraid of the high school crowd. Can't imagine why. :-)
I wish you the greatest success in your chosen field.
Jen Richerson
church choir director
JenRiche@aol.com

JelBean,
My name is Dana, and I am a choir director of about 50+ members. I work in a church with my husband who is the youth pastor. I was honored that you included me in you search for advice. The best advice I can give you is to keep a close relationship with the Lord. I did not go to college for what I do, and I know that it was a talent giving by God. So I want to use my abilities that He has blessed me with to further His kingdom. This might sound strange but I notice that when I am into the Word, and keep my relationship close with the Lord it comes out when I am teaching the choir their songs. It gives them motivation and makes them want to do the same. They get excited about what they are singing about and WHO they are singing about. You see that is my ultimate goal. For people to be able to see Christ in me because when they do it makes them want it too. Commitment is a big part of my choir. I have an attendance policy and tell them that if they are not serious about their ministry then they should not be a part of it. I don't know if you are looking to be a choir director in a church or elsewhere, but I do know that you are nothing without God, and a good relationship with Him would be the best advice I could give in any endeavor you choose. Please e-mail me back. I would love to hear from you again!
DanaMae75@aol.com

Obviously, since you are asking many choir directors, there is not and cannot be a single most important thing. Any director who replies with a single statement would be misleading you.
Choir directors deal with numerous singers of varying talents and abilities, accompanists and/or instrumentalists, various languages and styles, endless logistics, morale, etc.. I would suggest observing, participating in, and soaking up as much choral activity as possible. This will steer you onto the right path.
Bart Bradfield
BartB7@aol.com

Hi JelBean37 !!
The KEY to being a REALLY REALLY REALLY good music director........................... YOU MUST BE A TALENTED & WELL TRAINED MUSICIAN (YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A DEGREE'D MUSICIAN.....I'M NOT AND I'LL STAND UP AGAINST ANY DEGREE'D MUSICIAN - IT'S EXPERIENCE THAT COUNTS --- NOT THE DEGREE YOU EARNED IN COLLEGE !) AND HAVE A PLEASANT (NOT CONDESCENDING!) ATTITUDE, YOU;LL DO FINE. ENJOY WHAT YOU DO AND LET THE CHOIR ENJOY IT WITH YOU. DON'T TAKE IT SO SERIOUSLY THAT IT SEEMS (AND APPEARS) LIKE A JOB ! ALWAYS BE THRILLED WHEN THE MUSIC THAT COMES OUT IS SUPERB. STRIVE FOR BETTER, ALWAYS, BUT IF IT'S NOT FUN (FOR YOU AND THE OTHERS).............STOP AND TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH. VOLUNTEERS ARE MUCH DIFFERENT THAN PROS. ALWAYS KEEP THAT IN MIND.
JOHN KOSIK
MUSIC DIRECTOR
RESURRECTION CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
WAYNE,IL
JFKosik@aol.com

Dear Breanne,
Love what you do. Love it enough to learn your craft well. Search out a broad-based education, one that gives you not only a firm grounding in all the various fields of music but also one that brings you in touch with languages, literature and the other arts. Search out the very best choirs and conductors (the world over) and learn what others are struggling to accomplish in this beautiful art form. As you become active as a conductor, love all those with whom you have the privilege of working.
Good luck to you!
James Armstrong
Director of Choirs
College of William and Mary
jiarms@wm.edu

The best choir directors have high goals for their choirs and don't give up until they get what they want--in terms of sound, accuracy, and musical expression. The best choir directors also LOVE the music and LOVE their students. This is not something one can act--it has to be sincere. If the choir director can inspire loyalty and respect, the singers will do anything for the director. This allows the director to ask more of them, and eventually they will sing far better than they ever thought they could. All of this takes for granted excellent training--superb sight-reading skills, an excellent ear, and sensitivity to the emotions underneath the music. No one will be able to give you just one thing, Breanne. There is so much required to be a fine conductor. Be prepared to work harder than you ever have in your life. But I would also tell you that it's the most rewarded field in the world. I wish you the best of luck. Say, could you send me a copy of the results of your survey?
Laura Lane
Director of Choral Activities
Knox College
llane@knox.edu

Hi Breanne,
Yes, I'm a choir Dir. but have never gone to college for it. When I was your age I really loved music and math. So I started to go to college for both and thought that eventually I would choose what ever was closer to my heart. Well as time went on I chose the Math field. I thought that one day i would love to teach math in public schools. So I did receive my BS in mathematics . I worked as an engineer for a few years but now I'm a stay home Mom (Choir Dir. at my Church). I made my decision to go for Math instead of music because I believed i could always do my music on the side. I new that I loved the Christian music but never thought that I would be a choir dir. Well, that is another story but I have been directing Church choirs for the last 15 years. I love it very much. This is where I feel God wants me to be. It is very rewarding singing and directing this type of music. Although I do love all music. I'm probably going to go back to college when all my children (5) are over the age of 10 years. But I will go for Choir directing and Catholic liturgy.
Just remember that when you are a choir Director always use your heart in whatever music your group performs. Treat your choir members with respect and they will respect you. Try to share with them any knowledge you have of the composer of the work they are singing. Don't lecture them just through them a tidbit ever so often. That always adds to the understanding of the songs. Also the times the composer wrote in.
Right now I sing in a classical choir and the director is wonderful. I love all the tidbits she gives us about the composers we sing. It was so interesting to learn that when Bach, and other composers wrote there are so many things that influence their work. For instance, when Bach uses 3/4 timing it was chosen for a reason it represents the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Sometimes the chord progressions in his music are symbolic of the Crucifixion.
I guess when I go back to college in 7 years I will take several music history classes. It really is helpful to know about the composers you are singing. Also it is important to know how singers would have sung their music in their time period. This way your music could be more authentic. Baroque singers would sing a piece a little different from us. When ever we perform a Baroque piece our Dir. always reminds us how it is different from say a Reniassance piece would be sung.
Another help for being a good dir. may be to take a few languages or linguistic classes. There is so much wonderful music out there and many of it is written in different languages. This next concert we(Classical Choir of Abilene) are performing will be sung in several languages, German, Finnish, Latin, and Italian. And it is wonderful when our Dir. knows the languages. But sometimes she will ask a choir member (Who has a linguistic degree)to read the words for us.
Don't forget to take voice lessons and voice classes so you can understand all there is about the human voice. But I'm sure many of my ideas will be told to you when you start setting up your schedules in college.
Are you a part of any choirs besides your school choir? If not look for one in your town and join it, you will learn lots I'm sure. Also if you can , go to concerts and listen to the choirs and watch the director.
Well, I have talked your ear off enough. I wish you the best of luck with your approaching career.
Jeanne
JMRNote@aol.com

Breanne,
Interesting question. I'm still trying to figure this out and I've been doing it for about 30 years. Here are some quick ideas. Take piano and voice lessons and get very secure with your fundamental musical skills like sight-reading and sight-singing. Listen to as many good choirs as you can, on recordings, in person and talk to your teachers and friends about what you heard and liked. Be in as many good choirs as you can--school, church, community, etc. The more exposure you get to the music the better off you'll be.
Next is a selfish suggestion. Come to UI's summer music camp, Illinois Summer Youth Music. It's a one week camp on campus with people like you from all over the state. You live in the dorm, and take choir and music classes all day long. Your teacher should have applications. If she/he doesn't, write me back and Ill send you one. Good luck. Your interest and motivation will carry you a long way.
Professor Joe Grant
University of Illinois
j-grant2@uiuc.edu

Breanne,
I think the two most important things to remember are:
1. Remember that your choir members are more than just singers. They are people first and foremost. Understand where they are coming from and then use that to plan how you'll teach them. Every group of singers is different and they all need different things.
2. No matter how small your choir may be, you ARE making a difference. When I taught youth choir in church, I had only 2 members, one of which was my younger brother. But I was assured by many that their music had touched them. Just keep the focus off yourself and on to God and the choir members and you'll be great!
Good luck with your searching. If you have any other questions, let me know. I am a student at Georgetown College and would love to help you out any way I could.
Becca
BJtheFREAK@aol.com

Dear Breanne:
Your question is very challenging because I've not generally thought of THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING a choir director must remember in order to be successful. Obviously, the conductor must be expert at the technical issues of conducting and singing and have a deep knowledge of the music she is conducting. So what comes to mind after that is much more personal and has to do with truly loving the music. That would mean that you would have to perform music you really love and not compromise on that in any way. That would lead you to explore the music more profoundly, and of course, that leads to deeper understanding of the music and how it affects your life and, by extension, the hearts and minds of those in your ensemble. This way, you can give to your singers on a deeper level, and the experience for
you, the ensemble, and the audience rises to a higher level.
Your enthusiasm and willingness to explore through such an email message to me and my colleagues across the country shows that you are already moving in a very productive direction. I'm impressed by your openness, your enthusiasm, and your heartfelt honesty. Never change that!
Warm good wishes to you for a very bright future.
Theo Morrison.
moretheo@umich.edu


Dear Breanne:
Sorry to take so long to respond. I have a rather hectic schedule and sometimes I have to defer things I'd really like to do to those I must do.
Anyway, I got your e-mail concerning advice for being a "really, really good choir director," and I have given it some thought. I don't have a concise statement of a really important thing, but I think I can offer you a unique perspective.
You should know a little bit more about my background for this to make sense. I was raised in a musical family. We all sang in church choir and played instruments. I began playing the trumpet at 6 (too young, by the way -- you have to get your permanent teeth in before you can really play a brass instrument) piano shortly thereafter, viola in fifth grade and trombone in sixth. Trombone became my main focus, but in Jr. High and High School I played the lead role in several plays and musicals (I am a tenor). Anyway, I absorbed a lot of music in different roles (singer, trombonist, violist, pianist and even conductor) and I think this is important to my success now.
So, fast forward to now. I am the bass trombonist of the Utah Symphony. That is my main occupation and it was hard to win this job almost 11 years ago in a national audition. Winning a trombone audition in a major orchestra was my focus after high school and through college and beyond. That is a long story and not altogether important to what you ask, but the point is that singing, and other musical interests were subjugated or shelved for a long time. In the last several years in an effort to supplement my income (I have three kids) and to find some mental stimulation, I have taken on an Adjunct Professorship at the University of Utah where I teach trombone and direct a Trombone Ensemble. And finally two years ago, after years of being in and out of church choirs, I got my own job as a Music Director at a Lutheran Church here in Salt Lake City. That is perhaps the most fun and stimulating (on a regular basis) musical thing I am doing now.
I have had rather unprecedented growth in numbers and musical ability in my choir here. I attribute it to a number of things. First, I keep a clear head about the choir's main purpose, which in this case is to provide musical leadership and choir anthems on Sundays for worship services. Second, I realize that I have to care about the people I work with more than the music we perform. Happily this general works out with little or no compromise on musical matters. I don't mean that you have to allow sloppiness and do the easiest junk that is out there. We do a great variety of things including very recent, serious music by the likes of John Tavener and Gorecki, and Part. Of course we do Rutter of all descriptions and the old standards, but the main repertoire is quality music from a wide span of time. You have to keep people in a mind to want to sing well for themselves as well as you. Maybe that is my best piece of advice, though you are the leader of a choir as it's director, usually it isn't about you, It is about the music, or the chorister's getting a musical outlet or about worship in the case of a church choir. Or any of a number of things. You have to keep some perspective. You have to lead in a manner that makes people WANT to follow.
Past that a good natural sense of humor helps immensely, and great organization is important, too. Having the music in order and legible cannot be stressed enough.
Finally, get the best and broadest musical education (and education in general) that you can. You have to narrow your focus at some point to master some discipline of music, but don't close yourself into choral music alone. That has helped me immensely having been trained as an instrumentalist. I love choral music and have learned a lot about it on my own based on the tools that I acquired in school as an instrumentalist. It is important to recognize the skills in music that are universal to all areas of music (pitch, rhythm, solid reading, etc.) and then to focus on those things particular to each (text in singing or articulation in brass playing for instance)
I am not sure how clear this is, but I did want to make an effort to answer you. I am very interested in helping and encouraging young people to pursue musical careers and I would love to try to answer any questions you might have. In my triple roles as Trombone teacher, Music Director and Symphony Musician, it can sometimes take me a bit to get back to you, though!
Good Luck. Hope to hear from you again.
Rusty McKinney
Bass Trombonist, Utah Symphony
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music, University of Utah
Music Director, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, ELCA
BigTrbn@aol.com

Breanne,
An interesting quest you're on! I actually hope and expect that it causes a lot of us who are doing the work you hope to do yourself to reflect on our dedication, commitment and priorities.
Here's my input for what it's worth:
The single most important element, I believe, is a deep love and respect for the music. This single point will branch off into all the other - and secondary - aspects, like a good, strong root system. From this
comes a careful study of the score, the necessity to translate that careful study into an imaginative and soul-stirring performance. It also motivates any conductor to want to share great music and music-making with people of all kinds - from the singers, to accompanists and other players, and to the audience. If you love it so much, you are dying to share it with others! Furthermore, it makes us be discriminating choosers of the music we want to perform. There is a tremendous amount of GREAT music available - from the purity and other-worldliness of a chant melody such as the hymn "Pange lingua" to the complexity of an 8-voice motet by Lassus or the double-choir mass by Frank Martin that we could live 12 lives and not get to it all. Sadly, on the other side, there is even more weak or cliched music and - not to be overlooked - sloppy or simplistic texts that saturate our culture and our mailboxes. Discerning those pieces that you want your singers to spend hours rehearsing is among the hardest tasks we have as choral directors.
Enough! Good luck with your research. Are you planning to share your findings with us? I hope so!
Barbara Hall
Chair, Music Program
Centre College, Danville, KY
hallb@centre.edu
606-238-5431

I guess the most important piece of advice that I can give you is to not forget the hearts and lives that you are molding. If you only put in a half effort into even just one part of your journey (School, study, practice, kids) then you are not allowing the future kids that you will teach a fair chance. Being a teacher is not an easy job. It has all kinds of rewards as well as consequences. I guess the easiset way to put it, don't loose the drive and passion for teaching that you have now. Drive, Passion, Decication, Heart... to me are the keys to being a good teacher.
AlanSimm@aol.com

Hello Breanne,
There are many factors and qualities which blend together to make fine choral directors.
1) You will need to have a great passion for wanting to spread the "gospel" of choral music. Perhaps the single most important ingredient is this passion. If you truly love to sing and teach beautiful choral music, your students will know it, and want to head down the road with you, no matter how difficult it becomes for a variety of reasons, to the goal of producing beautiful music from their combined voices.
2) The more keyboard skills you have the easier it will be to keep rehearsals moving along. Take lessons and practice hard and long! Become an excellent sight reader on the keyboard.
3) You will need to have the ability to demonstrate, vocally, what you are asking from your students, so the more beautifully and skillfully you can sing, the better. If you sing professionally, your students will have an easier time taking vocal instruction from you. If was very helpful in my case, as a professional baritone oratorio soloist. It gave me instant credibility.
4) Learn to sing and perform many styles of music: classical, pop, jazz, spirituals, folk, etc. The more varied your background, the more you can bring to your students. Keep several small ensembles going to spice up your program. The more talented kids love to shine in small ensembles or as soloists. It will draw the better students to your program.
5) Practice clear communication, so that your students (and the administrators you have to work with!) understand what you are asking of them. Nothing bugs me more than working under a director who stops the rehearsal to explain a problem, then goes on and on spewing generalities without communicating clearly how to fix the problem. Use specific musical terminology and think carefully how to communicate it to your students, using specific examples, perhaps singing a phrase exactly the way you want it sung. Clearly communicating exactly what musical nuances you are after is a very important skill. Develop it! Hopefully you are practicing these skills right now as a section leader.
6) Pick repertoire that will challenge your students, regardless that it may not be "cool" or "hip" or "popular." You have probably experienced the thrill that occurs when a chorus masters a challenging piece of music (even though it may be a tough classical piece that may not have immediate appeal) that not only expands the students understanding of how to sing beautiful choral music, but raises the group to new levels of musical performance. It's okay to sing good quality pop music, but it should serve as dessert, not the main course. Balance this with having the wisdom to throw out a piece that is obviously not "clicking" with your chorus.
7) Don't ever let anyone dissuade you from your chosen goal of wanting to teach music. I knew when I was 16 that I wanted to teach music. Many people told me that "I would never make a living as a music teacher." Ha! I had to exam out of college early because a job was calling me! I enjoyed teaching bands (10 years) and choirs (32 years-the last 22 years I taught only choirs, by choice) more than I can tell you. I retired early (at 56) because my side business was taking off, and as a maker of rehearsal tapes for choirs, I am enjoying serving my art in a new way.
I know I have given you more than you asked for, but there wasn't any one single answer I could give you. If you have to pick "the most important," pick #1, above. All the other six, however, will make you a more complete package as a choral director. There are other, technical aspects that you will discover and develop as you progress through the end of your high school years and enter college, but these 7 are the basic ingredients for a successful school choral director.
Incidentally, I stopped my quest for an upper degree shortly before earning my Masters Degree. I was married, in the middle of developing a successful teaching career, had my own private studio for teaching private lessons, and felt, in my heart, that my pursuit of an upper degree was stifling me. It turned out for the best for me, because it steered me, 17 years into my career, towards developing a tool which allowed choral students to practice their music at home. I successfully answered the question, "Why should choral singers be the only musicians in the world who don't practice their music outside of rehearsals?" by developing a tool which allowed choral singers to do exactly that. Not too many years later, the research involved in creating and developing that tool led to a second career in making rehearsal tapes for choirs. We now make rehearsal tapes for more than 1000 choirs around the world, have 180 classical major works on our web page catalog, and more than 3000 octavos in our database that we have sequenced for all state and other choirs around the country. We (my wife and I plus two choral directors who assist us in sequencing music during the busy times) are having a ball as well as making some money for the first time in my life! (Making money wasn't a high priority with me and isn't important now, even though it is happening as a natural result of doing something I love and doing it well.) I mention all of this to let you know that the pursuit of an advanced degree is not always necessary and/or desirable. If your goal is to eventually teach at the college or university level, it is necessary, however. The very best to you in your quest to become an outstanding music teacher. The very fact that you are reaching out like this as early as you are speaks well for you.
Gary Hammond, Hammond Music Service - Song-Learning Tapes(tm)
GrHammond@aol.com

Hi Breanne!
What a pleasure to receive such a carefully prepared and insightful note on the e-mail. I'm not sure I have an answer to your question, but I'm pleased to share what I can.
As a former mid-westerner (I was born and reared in Monticello, Iowa and did my undergraduate work at Wartburg), I understand your passion for choral music and wanting to be a "really really good teacher". Brava! I applaude your desire and aspiration. I'm not sure, however, that I have a single answer or suggestion for you. There are several things which I find essential, either from my own experiences, my observations of others, or my own deficiencies. I currently conduct the Men's Glee Club and the Women's Chorale at the University of Florida, have spent five summers singing with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, have recorded 7 CDs with Mr. Shaw and appeared 13 times in Carnegie Hall under his direction, as well as being soloist for Sir David Willcocks, Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt, Dr. Hugh Ross, and numerous others. I hope my ideas might help you. My suggestions:
1. The choral conductor should have an EXCELLENT knowledge of the vocal instrument, vocal pedagogy, CHORAL pedagogy, the choral voice as well as the solo voice, including the physiology. Preservation and good health of the vocal instrument is vital.
2. Excellent piano skills (one of my many shortcomings), even though the piano should be used very sparingly during the rehearsal. Review of repertoire is a huge task, and good piano skills helps.
3. Extraordinary musical skills, the ability to sight-read accurately, very strong rhythmic skills, a thorough knowledge of theory, excellent ear-training skills, a highly developed sense of pitch accuracy and of tuning skills.
4. Language skills in German, French, liturgical Latin, Italian. In addition to translation ability and diction skills, it is important to understand how the spoken language is sometimes different than the sung text, and how to alter accordingly, especially in English!!! Knowing your resources for other languages is also important (Russian, Slavic languages, African dialects, etc. Who can help you?)
5. Excellent training in rehearsal/conducting techniques. This is more frequently learned from singing in quality groups with quality conductors than it is in classwork or specific courses.
6. Voice training should include applications of the vocal techniques to the choral environment, not just getting the solo recital ready. The solo voice teacher should have a working knowledge of how these ideas would apply to the choir rehearsal so the conductor can "teach a little voice" as part of the reharsal process.
7. A strong awareness of music history, style characteristics and how they can be achieved, choral sound ideals, ornamentation, etc.
8. Interpersonal skills that allow the conductor to present ideas in a manner which invites the singers to achieve their best without "brow beating" or "blowing up".
There are many other factors that go into the process, but I hope this spurs your thinking. Let me know if I can assist you any further. If you wish to discuss places where you might study to achieve some of these ideas, let me know and we can discuss. There are many options.
Thanks for the opportunity to share with you.
Ronald Burrichter
Director of Men's Glee Club and Women's Chorale
arbee@ufl.edu

Breanne,
In order to be a really, really good music teacher you must be student centered. It's not you, the faculty, the administration, the town, the parents or the choir, it's the student.
Joe
jjanisch@uchaswv.edu

Music is about communication. The composer communicates to the audience via the performers. The audience responds to the music (I sense it even though I am facing away from them). The director communicates directly with the ensemble, verbally during rehearsal, nonverbally during performance. Performers are aware of one another,
whether they actually catch eyes (as jazz players do) or only feel and hear one another's singing and breathing in a choir. Communication is always two-way. And if that communication is about love and passion and dedication and understanding, music is much more successful.
I am behind you 100%, Breanne! Your determination to be the best you can be will carry you a long way towards your goal. Never let your
passion die, even in some boring college class (and you will have some boring ones, as well as inspiring ones). Best of luck to you! Once you've received everyone's responses, don't hesitate to compile them together and post the results to Choralist. I'll make sure it gets linked on the ChoralNet website as well.
Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria
allen@sdgloria.org

Passion and desire is what you need to get where you want to go. It sounds like you have that! :-)
The next step is to be trained musically and get all the experience you can working with different people. READ! The VERY BEST place to go for training is Westminster Choir College. It is part of Ryder (Rider) University in New Jersey. If you are limited in where you can go for training, look at what programs offer. Your curriculum must include instrumental and vocal conducting, vocal pedagogy, and voice lessons as well as opportunities for a lot of performing.
If you aren't already taking voice lessons, take voice lessons. If you don't have piano skills, take piano lessons.
Learn how people learn. "Please understand me" by Kiersey and "People Types and Tiger Stripes" (I forgot the author!) are two very good books on personality and how they learn. Good luck!
Keep me informed!
Susan Nace
Measure for Measure Renaissance Singers
susanna_co@juno.com

Hi Breanne,
Since I have already given you a fairly detailed list (about 7, if I remember correctly) from the same question you posted to AOL choral conductors, I will just add the one thing I forgot the first time around.
Visit several colleges or universities and make it a point to meet and scope out the top choral directors at the college or university. Look for one that has an excellent reputation and then select the one with whom you seem to "click." That person will become your mentor and guide you through the difficult process of becoming a good and knowledgeable choral director. Choose carefully and wisely. Make it a point to ask them if they will be around for 4 or more years. If they ask why, let them know it's because you are looking for a mentor who will be there for you during your 4 (or more) years working under them.
Gary Hammond, Hammond Music Service - Song-Learning Tapes(tm)
GrHammond@aol.com

Hi Breanne,
One thing that I can tell you that is very important is to remember that to be a successful teacher is not to teach a subject, but rather to teach students. Especially as a beginner, it is hard to see a group of students as many individuals who have come together to make music. You get on the podium and it just looks like a mass of people around you. Therefore preparation becomes key. Know exactly what you want, and don't settle for
anything less. This includes knowing what you want from both the individual and the group, and them knowing what you expect of them individually so that they make a conscious effort to contribute to the group. As your ear for this improves, so will your expectations. So don't settle for anything less. Choose
and prepare quality literature. This includes text - choose something that is meaningful to the people in your group, and to the intended audience. The text that we sing and portray is what makes the choral experience one step closer to the heart than any other musical form. Think of it this way: once, someone was so inspired by something that they wrote something about it. Then somewhere along the way someone was so inspired by reading it that they wanted to set it to music. Someone (you) who sees and feels this music in their heart is so inspired that they want to share it with others, and so prepares it with a group
for a performance. Know what you want the piece to sound like, and think of the best ways to go about getting it there. The lesson plan always comes out of the score. You will come to realize this more and more as you study at the college level, as you realize that is the case with those choral conductors and
clinicians who have so inspired you to strive to become like them. Most importantly, you have already done something very important: you want to be the one of the best at what you do. Keep your motivation alive, no matter what comes in your way. You WILL have doubts from time to time, but keep your eyes
ahead of you to what it is that you want.
Annonymous

Breanne,
There can't be one most important ingredient, of course. Among the most important things are a deep love of music, singing, and choral music; genuine enjoyment of people, especially young (school-age) people; musical skills, including strong studies in voice, piano or other instruments; good, musical mentors; a love for reading.
How's that?
Charles Smith
Michigan State University
smithcc@pilot.msu.edu

Breanne,
Congratulations on a most ambitious goal. To be a really, really, good choir director, you must do two things. First, sing in a really, really good choir under a really, really good director. Pick a college that is
know for its choral program - one where you will be challenged. Secondly, you must have the passion for making music. You must be outgoing, an actress, inspirational, motivational, and comanding. You must
know your art form well. You must study, sing, go to concerts, buy recordings, direct whenever you can, do church choirs, do community choirs, practice your conducting in a mirror, imitate the best until you are able to develop your own style. Learn to listen. Listen to your choirs - listen to your colleagues - listen to your singers. And the list goes on. What I am trying to tell you is that there is no "one" thing you can do to
be a "really, really good" choral director. This is a growth process that takes time and development. Enjoy the trip. It is a beautiful journey and it goes by really fast. And don't be concerned with competing with anyone in music. Make it your goal to make beautiful music. Be passionate. Be committed. You are chosing a way of life, not a vocation. This will be all consuming to you. If it is not, you will not be a really really good choral director.
best of luck
Bruce Phelps
Choral Director
Anoka High School
Director of Music at Anoka MN United Methodist Church
Music Ed Instructor at St. Olaf College
And the list goes on.
phelps@visi.com

Breanne,
There are MANY things that come to mind !!
I have several:
on October 10, 2008 10:00pm
Hi, Breanne.
I have read much of the responses to your request. This will be brief.

The single most important thing for you to do is "pursue your own vocal proficiency." Never stop studying voice. If you can do it, you can teach it. If you can't, you can't.

I must mention also that the analysis of the simplest composition is the key to teaching it to a choir.

In my dissertation I found that most choral directors in the employ of colleges and universities lack true vocal ability. Or, at least, it can be said that their work would be improved with better vocal awareness. Methods are not the key for your success. Again, most inferior choral singing can be credited to a directors lack of vocal abilities.

Hopefully helpful!
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